Pomona makes RAs hourly workers, but students question the details

A female college student hangs up a poster on a bulletin board.
Pomona College Residential Advisor Sara Reyes Noriega PO ’21 hangs up a poster outside of Clark III. (Chris Nardi • The Student Life).

Resident advisors at Pomona College will become hourly employees next semester,  administrators announced in a meeting with RAs on Monday. RAs are worried this could result in an overall pay cut.

In discussions with each other and meetings with administrators, RAs raised concerns that their new status and job structure will decrease their wages and abilities to take on other jobs, among other issues, according to multiple current RAs. 

RAs are currently independent contractors paid annually with a stipend of about $8,800 before taxes and a credit for half of room and board fees, according to Pomona Dean of Campus Life Josh Eisenberg. 

As independent contractors, they don’t log hours with Pomona, giving them broad leeway to work another, more traditional job paid hourly as well.

With the change, RAs won’t be allowed to work more than eight hours a day across all their on-campus jobs without accruing overtime, according to Eisenberg. And RAs will be logging 13 hours a week, more than half of Pomona’s limit of 20 hours of campus employment a week.

RAs with multiple jobs fear they may have to quit their other jobs to avoid accruing overtime or going over the total work limit, RAs Jose Huerta Gutierrez PO ’20 and Sarthak Sharma PO ’20 said.

“The original discussion was, maybe you can’t have another job besides RA,” Eisenberg said. “Based on conversations with ASPC and some other leaders on campus, we are still going to have it in there that says you may have another job with permission of your supervisor. It’s just that we’re going to be more stringent about that permission.”

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RAs will earn $6,400 in regular wages for a 34-week school year, Eisenberg said. But he estimated that in total they would receive $8,000 before taxes, with the addition of paid trainings and special shifts. 

The RAs will also pay less in taxes as student employees, according to financial aid director Robin Thompson, among other tax benefits.

“Moving to an hourly wage system, there’s a lot of benefits for [RAs] because they don’t have to pay their own self-employment taxes,” Thompson said. “They have the capacity to withhold federal and state taxes throughout the course of the year so they don’t get hit with a large tax bill and tax liability in April when they file their taxes.”

But if, under the new system, RAs earn more than they currently do, the financial aid office could decrease their aid allotments.

The financial aid office determines student income using data from the previous two years, Thompson said, so RAs who began work as sophomores could face reductions during their senior year.

Eisenberg said these RAs could lose $2,000 to $5,000 in financial aid in their senior year. But he maintained that the impact of that reduction could be overstated.

“If you work sophomore, junior and senior years, even if your financial aid takes a hit at $5,000, you’ve made $24,000 over three years,” he said. “That’s not saying it’s still not a problem and still not something that can be concerning. But I think people sometimes have misheard it.” 

Eisenberg emphasized that the new policy will grant quality-of-life benefits that will be afforded to RAs as hourly employees, including sick time and structured breaks during long shifts and trainings.

Despite administrators’ belief that they’ll be earning more overall, some RAs are concerned that they’ll actually earn less.

“On certain weeks, you’re working a lot more, and on other weeks, you’re not working as much, or you’re not picking up enough shifts sometimes. So it really varies from person to person,” RA Sarthak Sharma PO ’20 said. “I can imagine there could be situations in which people aren’t making as much money as they are doing currently.” 

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The new, stricter limits on how long students can work will especially impact low-income and international students who often work multiple jobs, Sharma said. 

International students, like Sharma, are also limited to 20 hours of work week on- and off-campus by visa regulations.

“Students who are doing the RA job and working other campus jobs would really have to think about what else they’re doing outside of the RA job because they wouldn’t be allowed to work more than 20 hours. So I think international students’ finances would definitely be affected,” Sharma said.

Due to the uncertainty around such large structural changes to the role, Eisenberg said, administrators gave students two weeks to decide whether they would like to return as RAs next semester. They advised RAs to work with financial aid counselors and consider how their other jobs might be affected within this timeframe.

Sharma said he was considering leaving the job for next semester.

Outside of financial considerations, some RAs speculated that their new work structure — four hours of scheduled interactions and/or residence hall programming, rather than more informal availability to residents — would make them less accessible.

“According to this new plan, we’re supposed to have a four-hour block of office hour time in which students get to come in and talk to us,” Sharma said. “But I think that that’s more like a professor-student kind of formal relationship rather than the informal kind of relationship that we had with our residents.”

Eisenberg said RAs could plan their “office hours” around natural times of social interaction with residents.

“If you find out that your floor is really around in the hall from 7 to 9 on Sundays, those can be two hours over there,” he said. “It’s availability and tracking that availability.”

Also, on-duty RAs will only work until midnight most nights and 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, according to Eisenberg. This mean students locked out of their rooms after RA duty ends will have to rely on Campus Safety, incurring a $25 fee in the process.

The changes were in part prompted by RAs who met with Dean of Students Avis Hinkson last year, asking for help with the tax liability associated with their independent contractor status, Huerta-Gutierrez said.

After administrators began looking into solutions, Eisenberg said, the Human Resources department and legal counsel advised them RAs needed to become school employees.

A new California law going into effect on Jan. 1, which will make it more difficult to classify workers as independent contractors, also spurred the change, he said.

Disclaimer: Sharma is a TSL Opinions writer.

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