Student workers out of work relieved at Pitt support


Caela Go | Staff Photographer

Pitt will continue to pay student workers and work study employees according to their established work schedules.

By Jade Chang, Staff Writer

Getting paid without going to work might sound like a dream, but for many Pitt student workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a lifesaver.

Pitt announced on March 12 that it would continue paying student workers and work study employees according to their established work schedules.

“Students who return home and are thus unable to work at their on-campus jobs, or students who are uncomfortable returning to campus to work, will continue to be paid through the end of their employment period according to their standard work schedules. We encourage students to return home and speak with their supervisors,” the statement said. 

Samantha Robertson, a senior French major and theater and Spanish minor, said although she wanted to continue her work study at the Robert Henderson Language Media Center in the Cathedral, she couldn’t due to concerns about the virus.

“I live off-campus, but I went home because my parents really did not feel comfortable with me being all the way out in Pittsburgh by myself,” she said. “But I rely on my job to pay back my loans.”

As a work study employee, her wages are allocated from a federal grant. Pitt then uses that grant to pay as much as the grant will allow for the student’s work. Payment for work per hour is determined by the supervisor.

“For me, I’ll receive $3,000 for the work study and I was working towards that before the coronavirus kind of cut things off,” she said. “None of us can really go into work because it’s a small public area.”

Nicole Thompson, a senior civil engineering major, works as a rock climbing instructor and climbing wall attendant at Trees Hall. She said she was anxious about her employment status after the University announced it would be closing campus.

“Initially I thought my job was gone when I first heard the news, and there was a little bit of confusion as the University figured everything out, which made me worried because my on-campus jobs are how I pay my rent,” Thompson said.

Thompson said for students who rely on their University jobs to pay for rent, utilities and groceries, the University’s decision to continue paying their student workers has lifted a weight off their shoulders.

“I really appreciate it because they’re making sure I can still pay my rent, even though the whole world is kind of falling apart,” she said. 

Finley Conway, a junior economics major who also works as a Trees Hall climbing wall attendant, said that University’s response to the issue of student workers was relatively quick. 

“I didn’t really have to jump through any hoops to be continually paid for the rest of the semester, and I really do appreciate the efforts they’re making,” he said. “Especially for my friends who have much more serious jobs within the University and who need the money.” 

Thompson said she was also impressed with the University’s speed in addressing student workers.

“It was obviously hard for them to gather information quickly, but I think they did a good job of giving us an answer in a timely manner,” she said. “And I’m really satisfied with what they’ve done — still paying us even though we can’t physically work.”

On the other hand, Steffani O’Neill, a senior biological studies major who works under a work study in a lab and as a climbing attendant, said that the solution has its limitations. For students who work more than their standard schedule claims, the proposed payment system isn’t representative.

“I often work more than my normal schedule at the lab and I pick a lot of shifts up at the wall,” O’Neill said. “So my normal schedule isn’t really representative of how much I work and so my future pay won’t match what I normally get paid, so I’m kind of losing money.”

According to Robertson, the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic offer a decent explanation for any imperfections in the solution.

“I feel like I can’t really be mad because no one really knows when this is going to end,” she said. “There’s not really a right answer, one that would keep everyone happy. That’s just the nature of it.”

Thompson said she thinks the irregular situation leaves the University with few reasonable options.

“I think they implemented the most fair option they could, paying people as if they were still scheduled.” Thompson said. “At the climbing wall, we operate on a standard weekly schedule, so it doesn’t change unless someone is sick or something.”

Despite her concerns about the accuracy of her normal schedule, O’Neill said the University found a decent solution.

“They pretty much covered it and made sure I was compensated even though the physical University has essentially stopped functioning,” she said.

Thompson said the University has clearly made efforts to help students — particularly student workers — in the midst of the pandemic.

“It’s an unprecedented time, but from what I’ve seen, they’re really concerned and are making good steps to be the best they can be,” she said. “And now we just have to get back to class and wait it out.”