Amid COVID-19, timely paychecks have become all the more important. But for some, they’re arriving later and later.
Student workers at the Berkeley Student Cooperative, or BSC, are claiming that they have not been getting paid on time. In the co-ops, all residents are required to work five hours a week and can get paid $18/hour for extra work, while managers receive an additional, separate stipend. The BSC stated that these “student leaders” are compensated through rent stipends. At this juncture, no students have received a paycheck for the entirety of the fall semester, a gross error displaying how the BSC undervalues its workers.
Despite residents being told that they would be paid during week five — with week eight being the payment date in contracts — no payments have hit accounts, although residents have already submitted three rent payments.
During the pandemic, taking on extra work shifts and responsibilities requires much more effort and attention. COVID-19 has added to residents’ usual health and financial worries — for instance, managers, who run the co-ops’ day-to-day operations, now bear the burden of ensuring that residents stay safe and COVID-19-free. If the BSC asks more of its residents, it must adequately pay them and in a timely manner.
Some residents point to the BSC’s slow-moving, complicated bureaucratic system as reasoning for why payments have been so delayed. The BSC requires managers to speak to two liaisons — both of whom must confirm that workers are adequately performing their duties — before addressing a supervisor, who then speaks to the Central office that distributes payment.
This process is too complicated to suffice in any semester, let alone during a pandemic. To display respect and appreciation for its workers, the BSC must streamline its communication with residents, to not only pay them on time but also to transparently display how policies are crafted to clear away unnecessary red tape.
The co-ops housed 1260 residents in 2019. Over half are low-income and first generation college students, with significant percentages of transfer students and students with disabilities. The BSC provides an affordable housing option for low-income students and also creates safe spaces for students from marginalized communities, as exemplified by the Afro, Oscar Wilde and Person of Color Theme Houses. By withholding rent stipends and other payments from its population, the BSC undermines its own goals and exacerbates the very inequities it attempts to bridge.
Requiring workers to power their way up the ladder to secure a paycheck is ridiculous. If the current system is not working, we cannot simply blame it for our problems and move on. It’s time for the BSC to update its processes to better reflect its mission: supplying low-cost housing to the students that need it most, so that they can get the education they deserve.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2020 opinion editor, Katherine Shok.