Student Senate voted Wednesday night to table a resolution calling for all student employees at the University of Rhode Island to be paid time-and-a-half on holidays and Sundays.
The resolution was introduced by Student Senator Ryan Menard, who is a member of the Student Affairs Committee.
Rhode Island state statute, law 25-3-3, generally requires employees to be paid time-and-a-half for work on holidays and Sundays. This is to be considered premium pay. This means individuals who work on a Sunday or a state-recognized holiday are paid at one-and-a-half times the rate they are typically paid.
Federal law does not require time and a half pay on holidays and Sundays.
In Rhode Island, there is an exemption under the state statute that declares all public universities in Rhode Island are exempt from compensating student employees with premium pay on holidays and Sundays.
“All non-profit educational institutions of higher education located within Rhode Island, and other educational institutions that operate twenty-four (24) hours a day, seven (7) days a week and provide housing and food service, shall be exempt from paying employees Sunday and holiday premium pay,” the exemption reads.
Menard acknowledged the exemption to the law but does not believe the exemption has strong legal grounds. “There is some obscure exemption that says that as a 24/7 institution we are exempt from state law 25-3-3,” Menard said.
Menard focused largely on the ethical basis for passing the resolution. He said students deserve to be compensated for their holiday and Sunday labor just as most employees across the state are.
Senator Austin Vutech said it would be immoral to ask for more money than is legally required. Senator Daniel Baglini, however, spoke in favor of Menard’s ethical basis and said it is moral to oppose unjust laws.
Mark Gall, the chair of the campus affairs committee, said many students have previously voiced concerns that they believe they should be paid time-and-a-half on holidays and Sundays.
After much debate, the resolution was tabled. This was done so the campus affairs committee, which sponsored the resolution, could acquire more information regarding the impact the resolution would have on the University. Several student senators voiced concern over how premium pay compensation would be reflected in costs associated with the University.
Adriana Wilding, the president of Student Senate, said she believes the resolution should be passed but tabling it was a good idea in order to allow people to gain a better understanding of the issue.
“Keep in mind that this a state level issue,” Wilding said. “This is not a URI issue. This is at the state level.”
Senator John Bagley had spoken earlier in the meeting about the resolution potentially going to the state, in order to challenge the exemption listed under 25-3-3.
Menard opposed tablin the resolution. He said Student Senate should fight for the student body and delaying a vote on the resolution does not accomplish that. He said he had already done months of research regarding the topic and questioned how much more information URI would make available to Student Senate.
“We need to break the trend where we get nothing done and the administration always wins,” Menard said in the meeting.
When Student Senate does vote on the resolution, they will only focus on holiday premium pay. The provision to include Sundays in the resolution was removed after debate.
Vutech opposed Sundays being included in the resolution because he said students can find a job that does not require Sunday labor. He said Sunday labor occurs much more frequently than holiday labor, which could add up in cost over time.
“We’re exempt [from 25-3-3] because money doesn’t grow on trees,” Vutech said.
Vutech voiced concern that compensating student employees with premium pay on Sundays would lead to an increase in tuition because tuition is the largest funding outlet on campus. Vutech said approximately 90 percent of URI funding comes from tuition.
Recent data on the University’s website shows that roughly 40 percent of URI’s funding comes from tuition.
Kathy Collins, the vice president of Student Affairs, previously said the University does not currently pay student employees time-and-a-half because they are not required to. Collins said an increase in student pay on holidays and Sundays could result in higher costs to attend URI.
“Any changes in terms of pay, we would have to take those moneys from the rates, fees and tuition dollars that we collect,” Collins said. “If you think about it one way, it is we don’t want to take from one pocket and put it in another pocket.”
Menard estimated that compensating student employees with premium pay would cost each department approximately $10,000 a year. Vutech later stated that there are many departments on campus and the cost would eventually add up.
Senator Patrick Feeney said that if the University can afford to pay high-ranking administrators and faculty $400,000 or more, they should compensate student employees with premium pay.
The resolution applied only to non-work study student employees who have on-campus jobs. Dr. Carnell Jones, the director of Enrollment Services, said the department handles student employees who are part of the work-study program. No work study students work on holidays or Sundays because the offices they work in are closed on such days.
“What enrollment services does, from a student employment [standpoint], is we verify that the student has aid eligibility, like college work-study,” Jones said.
Menard was discouraged that the resolution was tabled but remains confident that it will pass when it does get voted on.
“I just hope we don’t table this forever because I do want a vote on it,” Menard said. “Like I said, I feel as if the administration always waits us out and that’s an important topic…I think that those who voted for tabling will be satisfied with the results we are able to find.”
The resolution is tentatively scheduled to be voted upon on Nov. 7, 2018. Menard hopes to push the vote back until the following meeting on Nov. 14, 2018 because he will be unable to attend the Nov. 7 meeting but he wants to be able to further defend the resolution.