Over the summer, some Southern Adventist University students began working as daily health assessment workers. According to Editorial Manager for Marketing and University Relations Janell Hullquist, a special task force of campus leaders—including medical personnel—established this new job alongside the Daily Health Assessment when campus began to reopen in July.
This new safety measure requires students, staff and visitors who wish to enter campus buildings or participate in activities to take an online health survey and report to a temperature check station each day. The health assessment workers, commonly referred to as health screeners, work at these stations.
Some student workers have complained that their pay rates should be closer, equal to or even higher than the health screeners’ because they are working what they consider to be more hazardous jobs on campus. Though Southern attempted to learn the pay rates of certain positions, Hullquist said that administration cannot comment on how much any individual earns on campus.
However, some students shared their own wages. According to senior nursing major Joanna Choi, her pay rate as a health screener is $10 per hour. Her fellow health screener, freshman nursing major Rachel Helm, stated that she is making $9.25 per hour.
Though some students have referred to the pay health screeners receive as “hazard pay,” that is not true, according to Hullquist.
“The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘hazard pay’ as ‘extra money that someone is paid for doing work that is dangerous,’” Hullquist said. “Students are not being placed in campus jobs that would meet this definition. There are many factors that impact student pay rates for any campus job. Class standing, experience, level of responsibility and difficulty of filling a vital position are just a few examples.”
According to an email from Associate Vice President for Human Resources Brenda Flores-Lopez, the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges that required the university to make decisions that allowed for an “effective, responsible and feasible” reopening of campus.
“On the topic of compensation for certain jobs that have developed as a result of COVID-19, readers should know that Southern evaluated needs carefully and made decisions, taking into consideration safety, long-term feasibility and finances, which included the importance of remaining consistent with our student employment pay structure,” Flores-Lopez wrote.
Still, some Southern students believe their jobs could now be considered dangerous due to COVID-19 and wish their pay were more similar to that of the health screeners.
Senior nursing major Stephanie Trinidad works as a residential assistant (RA) in the Southern Village. According to Trinidad, her pay rate as an RA began at $8.25 per hour and has increased by 25 cents each year she has worked as an RA.
“I really think we should get a pay rate similar to the health screeners,” Trinidad said. “I feel like we have more exposure to COVID because when we walk into these people’s homes, none of them are wearing masks.”
Trinidad added that she is afraid of catching COVID-19 when she does night checks because she does not know where anyone has been or how many people they have interacted with.
Junior public relations and graphic design major Camryn Clark works as an RA in Thatcher Hall. She also said RAs should make the same pay as the health screeners. From Clark’s perspective, RAs have an increased risk of coming in contact with COVID-19 because they are required to perform many social tasks including night checks, interacting with other RAs, going to worships and working at the front desk.
“Just because the RA position wasn’t created as a result of COVID doesn’t mean that there aren’t risks involved,” Clark said.
Another risk that RAs face, according to Associate Dean of Men John Sager, is checking with students who are not wearing masks during a fire drill. However, Sager has not yet heard any complaints from RAs concerning their pay this semester.
Similarly, housekeeping supervisor Amy DeWind has not heard complaints from her staff. According to housekeeping employee Cierra Dabney, DeWind and Talge housekeeping supervisor Jenny Spicer are “really good bosses who are always willing to make situations easier and more comfortable.”
Still, from Dabney’s perspective, housekeepers have always been underpaid, and this problem has worsened with COVID-19. She said that housekeeping is a physically demanding job and workers make contact with many people and their trash.
According to Dabney, some student workers in Talge Hall sanitize the downstairs quarantine halls.
“When it comes to putting our lives at risk, we should be making way more than the minimum,” Dabney said. According to Hullquist, Human Resources generally does not share wage information with anyone other than the employee. However, Hullquist said that due to the various factors that contribute to a student’s pay rate, an ‘average pay rate’ could be calculated in various different ways.