Thursday, January 20, 2022

Hurricane Florence evacuation caused unsalaried W&M workers to go without pay

In the petition, Bayley Murray '20 argued that, for minimum-wage employees, the hours of work and pay lost over the evacuation could negatively affect their ability to support themselves. (WYDaily/Couryesy Leonor Grave, The Flat Hat)
In the petition, Bayley Murray ’20 argued that, for minimum-wage employees, the hours of work and pay lost over the evacuation could negatively affect their ability to support themselves. (WYDaily/Couryesy Leonor Grave, The Flat Hat)

Following the mandatory evacuation for Hurricane Florence from Sept. 12 through Sept. 16, the College of William and Mary’s hourly employees were unable to work their scheduled hours and were not paid for their time off.

The mandated evacuation’s impact on hourly, non-salaried employees varied by person. For example, for employees who work a shorter number of hours, the loss in pay did not affect them as significantly as those who work longer hours.

In an earlier interview with The Flat Hat, Chief Human Resources Officer John Poma said the impact to hourly workers would be minimal despite the workers being unable to work as scheduled.

“… [B]ecause hourly workers are limited by law to no more than 1,500 hours from May 1st to April 30th, and because we typically have to limit hours for many hourly employees in April, we anticipate minimal to no effect,” Poma said in an email. “The hours should be relatively easy to make up. It’s never an ideal situation to close but we have to make those decisions in the best interest of the safety of campus. When they are hired, hourly workers understand that their schedules may change from week-to-week but they will have an opportunity to make up the hours.”

Maap Ellabib, an hourly employee at the Student Exchange in the Sadler Center, said she wasn’t significantly impacted by the evacuation.

“I just started this job three weeks ago so it wasn’t a huge impact — but that’s five or seven hours that I missed that I could have got,” Ellabib said.

While Ellabib said she was disappointed about the loss in work hours she experienced, she said she understood the college’s decision to evacuate.

“They were just taking precautions,” Ellabib said. “I feel like it was really good they were just trying to keep everyone safe. It could’ve been really bad.”

Poma said the college retains 143 hourly workers, and 12 work in facilities management. The college’s overtime-eligible facilities employees are salaried non-exempt.

Resident District Manager of William and Mary Dining Services Jason Aupied said in a previous interview with The Flat Hat that 80 percent of dining services employees are full time.

“During the closure for Hurricane Florence, Dining Services’ frontline employees missed 13 hours on average over the 4 days,” Aupied said in an email. “Full time employees were able to use vacation time to cover missed hours if they chose to.”

Following the evacuation notice, Bayley Murray ’20 created a Change.org petition entitled “W&M Should pay all of its workers their due salary for time during the Florence Evacuation,” in an effort to draw attention to the issue and to encourage the College’s administration to compensate its unsalaried workers for their time off.

In the petition, Murray argued that, for minimum-wage employees, the hours of work and pay lost over the evacuation could negatively affect their ability to support themselves, especially if their homes were subject to natural disaster-related damages.

Furthermore, he said because the college did not refund students for the unplanned break, and therefore didn’t lose any money due to the evacuation, it should be able to compensate its non-salaried employees financially for the time off.

“These workers already had to fear for loss of electricity and property damage because of the hurricane,” Murray said in the petition. “They should not also have to deal with even more financial hardships because the school refuses to pay their salaries because they couldn’t come to work due to life-threatening storms.”

Murray grew concerned for the College’s hourly employees’ well-being after hearing about the evacuation order, given most non-salaried employees reside in the Williamsburg area.

His concern grew after speaking to dining hall employees who he said expressed of financial struggles due to missed hours and storm damage.

Murray identified these personal testimonies as one of the driving forces motivating him to create the petition.

“We got lucky that the storm didn’t hit — but if it did hit, I just thought it would be important that they had some safety after the storm,” Murray said.

Murray is not confident the petition will convince the college’s administration to financially compensate its unsalaried employees for their unexpected leave of absence.

However, he said he hopes it will encourage a change in policy so that employees are not put in the same position regarding future natural disasters.

“These are people that we do see come to work here very often continuously throughout the year, so I think the school could benefit from knowing they have security in their job,” Murray said. “My main target would be for future disasters like Florence for them to not have to worry about whether or not they’re going to get paid or not because they can’t come to work because of a natural disaster, especially for mandated evacuations.”

Students, alumni and community members alike have shown their support for this issue by signing the petition. Among the petition signers is Jack Almeter ’19, who said he believes the College should be doing more to support its unsalaried employees during times of natural disaster.

“I understand that they’re not salaried employees, so I understand that there’s no legal standpoint where the College is breaking any rules or anything like that but, as far as I’m concerned, I hold the College to a higher standard,” Almeter said. “Nobody should have this job and still worry ‘OK, if a storm hits and my house gets destroyed and I need repairs, am I just not going to get paid for it on top of that?’ It bothers me that the College isn’t doing anything for them.”

As of recently, the petition is currently more than halfway to meeting its goal of 500 signatures, with around 300 supporters.

Although Murray has not yet reached out to administration in regards to this issue, he said he plans on advertising the petition more in order to gain additional signers.

In addition, Murray said he also hopes to collaborate with political clubs and organizations on campus moving forward to bring more attention to the issue.

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Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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