DPAs clarify pay policies, affecting SAMs GAs

On Wednesday, Coordinator of the Student Academic Mentor program Melissa Mandos said in an email acquired anonymously by the Phoenix to Student Academic Mentors, Green Advisors, and Diversity Peer Advisors that student leaders who participated in training sessions in anticipation for first-year orientation would receive $250 for their work during training. The decision came after an effort led by a group of DPAs to get payment for work done during training, and negotiations ensued with Assistant Dean and Director for Student Engagement Rachel Head and Vice President of Finance and Administration Greg Brown. Employment law surrounding training for these employees is ambiguous, and the Student Employment Committee is launching a review of the college practice of not paying SAMs, GAs, and DPAs during training.
SAMs, GAs, and DPAs are student leaders who work in residence halls and assist  with student life. These three programs employed 64 students this year, according to Rachel Head, the administrator in-charge of the DPA program this year. The student life programs have grown significantly in the last couple of years. The DPA program was created in 2015, and the number of DPAs nearly doubled this year from last year, again according to Head. All three programs require students to return to campus before orientation to go to training sessions that last approximately the length of a typical workday. According to Juhyae Kim ’19, a SAM, these sessions last several hours Monday through early Saturday afternoon. SAMs, GAs, and DPAs must also participate in aspects of orientation programming during orientation. Before this year, SAMs, GAs, and DPAs were not paid for this work.
According to Nolo, a publisher of self-help legal books and software, employees must be paid for training unless it takes place outside of normal work hours, does not make attendance mandatory, is not job-related, and does not require the employee to preform any other work at the same time. It is unclear if attendance was mandatory to these training sessions or if the college’s status as a non-profit educational institution affects the laws surrounding employment.
Rachel Head is the point person for the DPA program this academic year. She said that many students were unclear about when their employment hours would begin and thought they would be paid for training.
“The DPAs shared that there was some general confusion amongst themselves on when employment hours would begin and that many of them believed that student payroll hours would begin the week they returned to campus for training. In response to that confusion, we thought a one-time payment in the amount of $250.00 to all three residentially-based housing groups, [DPAs, SAMs, GAs] was appropriate,” said Head.
Head said that the number was arrived at by looking at the contracts of the DPAs, SAMs, and GAs as well as  the work these students did during orientation. The $250 is a one-time lump sum payment. When asked why the DPAs were not paid for training last year, Head pointed to the growth of the program and the different nature of training this year as reasons why the college had not considered paying DPAs for training in the past.
“The program grew from eight DPAs to 14 DPAs this year.  The DPA training this year focused more on cross-training between all of the residentially-based groups than it did during the first year,” Head said.
The email sent by Mandos also stated that the administrators responsible for reviewing the issue of DPA wages stated that the college’s procedure of not paying these student employees for their training was proper procedure.
“We have done a thorough review of each group’s employment contracts, and have also looked at how other peer institutions compensate, and believe that our current practice of beginning pay for these positions the first week of the semester, and not the early return period, is appropriate and in compliance with student payroll guidelines,” said Mandos.
The email goes on to explain that the one-time payment is a response to the confusion among DPAs on when payment would begin. Why this confusion existed remains unclear.
Ten DPAs were contacted in the course of researching this article, and they each declined to comment. The Phoenix is still anticipating a possible response from DPAs in the future as the story develops.
When asked if student-employees were allowed to comment on this issue, Head said that student employees should not speak for their whole group.
“We generally encourage student leaders to think carefully about speaking on behalf of a larger group.  I believe that students should always feel that they can speak freely and responsibly at Swarthmore; that being said, as an employer, we do remind student employees that they should not be commenting on situations that relate to individual student issues on their floor and/or situations that residents or other members of the group would consider private, nor should they be commenting on behalf of an entire student group,” she said.
The Student Employment Committee, headed by Brown, reviews all student employment practices of the college, currently including the payment of workers during orientation. It remains to be seen what will come out of this review and if in the future students will be paid an hourly rate for their training.

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