The Walter J. Hawrys Campus Recreation Center is the top employer of student assistants on campus. Photo by Trevor Christian. (Sept. 19, 2014)
By Trevor Christian
The State University of New York limited student assistants at all 64 of its campuses to 29 hours of work per week, starting at the beginning of this month, in order to avoid having to offer them benefits under the Affordable Care Act.
SUNY Director of Public Relations Casey Vattimo indicated that the Affordable Care Act, which mandates that starting in 2015 employers with more than 100 workers must offer benefits to 70 percent of their full-time employees, was the reason behind the change.
“Student Assistant positions are established for the purpose of providing financial support to students while accomplishing necessary work for the campus,” Vattimo said in an email. “Student Assistants are temporary, part-time positions, and do not include benefits.”
Vattimo defended SUNY’s actions as being similar to many other universities around the country.
Student assistant positions often involve office or lab work and are different than work study programs, which will not be affected by the Affordable Care Act or SUNY’s policy.
According to data made available by Stony Brook University, student assistants worked an average of 12 hours during the fall 2013 semester. But graduate students working as student assistants and office managers alike said most employees do not exceed 29 hours except during the summer or winter sessions, when they often do.
The new policy is already causing a problem for the Walter J. Hawrys Campus Recreation Center, the largest employer of student assistants on campus. Durron Newman, the assistant director for student personnel for Campus Recreation, said he was aware of why the new policy was made but indicated that the knowledge did not make forming a schedule any easier.
“It would be more beneficial for my department if I could have them having the same hours from before,” said Newman.
Newman said graduate students, who often serve in management positions during the hours full-time staff are not on duty, were being affected the most.
“They’re paying for their grad classes and they’re living on their own and have to pay for rent,” Newman said.
Molly Swartz, a graduate student employee, said she only works more than 29 hours a week during intersession, but that the money she makes then is crucial to her budget.
“It’s affected me because I really have to be conscious of how much I’m spending because I can only work 29 hours,” Swartz said. “I’m not going to be able to make as much as I usually can.”
Swartz said she applied for positions outside of campus in the hopes of picking up a second job.
“I just need a little something extra to make up for difference I’m not able to make here,” Swartz said.
When told why her hours were being cut, she took aim at SUNY and not the Affordable Care Act.
“It just sounds like they’re trying to be cheap or something,” Swartz said.
Not all students will be negatively impacted by the policy. Stony Brook’s Human Resources Department, which was not involved in the decision, said through a spokesperson that more student assistant positions will become available as a result.
“The University will have more opportunities for students to work as student assistants,” the statement read. “Student employment provides students with the opportunity to develop employment skills through hands on work experiences.”
Benefits, however, will not be provided.