UC Berkeley student workers face loss of jobs, wages due to COVID-19 pandemic

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Student employees face the risk of losing wages and jobs as Berkeley businesses struggle amid the COVID-19, or the new coronavirus, pandemic.

UC Berkeley has requested that all staff members, including student workers, work remotely unless they are responsible for essential operations jobs, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore. For students who work off-campus, however, many have lost their jobs with businesses in Berkeley temporarily closing.

“I literally used my last paycheck to pay my last month’s rent, and now since I can’t work for the remainder of this month, I don’t have the necessary funds to pay my rent,” said campus junior Melania Hernandez, who recently lost her job at Ross in Emeryville, California after the store temporarily closed.

An urgent ordinance passed by Berkeley City Council on March 17 prevents commercial and residential tenants from being evicted from their residences if the eviction was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Students who are facing financial crises are encouraged to apply for campus assistance from the Basic Needs Center and the campus financial aid office, according to Gilmore. Students, however, have expressed concern over receiving loans from campus.

“You do have the option to take out the loan, it’s just, I’m afraid to take them out,” Hernandez said. “If I don’t have the money now, it makes me think I can’t have the money later to pay those loans.”

UC Berkeley announced March 16 in an executive order that it will provide 128 hours of paid administrative leave for all employees who are unable to work due to the pandemic.

The federal government will be providing student employees with their share of their wages through the end of the semester even if they are unable to work, according to Gilmore. She added that the campus will also continue to pay its share through the end of the semester.

Undocumented students, however, are unable to receive assistance from the federal government and may be more vulnerable, according to campus doctoral student Rumur Dowling.

In an effort to provide financial assistance to not only members of the campus community but also the wider East Bay area, Dowling and campus professor of English and comparative literature Anne-Lise Francois launched the Cal COLA Mutual Aid / Financial Emergency Fund.

The program has received about 140 student applications and has distributed about $6,000 to 40 of those students, according to Dowling. About 80 students remain on the waitlist, as of press time.

“It would be really nice if the school can look at these cases of students who do not receive a complete (financial aid) package and try to find ways that they can support us,” said campus junior Lesly Arellano.

Contact Joy Ma at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dcjoyma.