OSWEGO N.Y. – SUNY Oswego’s dining halls are repaying lost wages to student workers and installing a new time clock system after months of frustration.
In November, an investigation found that campus dining halls underpaid student workers due to the time clock system incorrectly rounding students’ hours.
Student worker Ryan Gallagher was the first to get his missed payments.
“It felt good to see that change had actually been made, to walk in on Tuesday and see that it was installed, even if it wasn’t working, progress is progress,” Gallagher said.
Auxiliary Services, the branch of the university in charge of the on-campus dining halls, found that the improper rounding was due to an outdated time card system. The system was put in place when the dining halls had an exemption from wage regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act as a not-for-profit organization affiliated with an educational institution. The exemption expired in late 2021.
As a result, Auxiliary Services started to correct their mistakes by installing a new time card system in compliance with current labor laws, as well as going back through all the time cards from the past three years and paying students the wages they lost out on due to the time rounding.
“When I saw the [Oswego Now] story, I was very confused as to how I was different and why I hadn’t ever heard of it until that moment, so I was very frustrated,” said Josh Phelan, a student worker.
Over the course of several months, Phelan was in limited contact with Auxiliary Services. In early January, months after he initially reached out, he sat down for a meeting with Auxiliary Services to discuss the issue.
Phelan and other inquiring students said they began to get frustrated over what they say was the lack of communication coming from Auxiliary Services.
“There was some movement when people started to message about it,” Phelan said. “However, there has since been very little movement, and I think that’s because people don’t think anything’s gonna happen.”
Steven McAfee, executive director for Auxiliary Services, said that things are happening behind the scenes to address student concerns, but they are going to take time.
“The first thing we want people to know is that we are addressing it and we haven’t ignored it,” McAfee said. “It’s been a long process. We didn’t get it right the first time, we want to make sure we get it right the second time. We want to make sure we’re going through and checking it all.”
The department is checking every student worker’s time card, according to McAfee.
“We have about 4,000,” he said.
Phelan said they wished Auxiliary Services would take a more assertive stance in the matter.
“The key is that there’s not a lot of awareness, some students don’t even know that they’re owed money, and that’s a big thing,” Phelan said. “They should say something along the lines of ‘we know that labor laws have been broken,’ and I hope soon we hear some kind of movement on the matter.”
Gallagher was pleased by the department’s response.
“To their credit, they were willing,” Gallagher said. “They willfully handled everything internally.”
Gallagher said that the end goal of addressing his concerns was bigger than a few extra bucks in his pocket.
“The biggest thing behind this is bringing change for everybody and fixing the issue and making sure the people who are showing up and putting in the work and are deserving of a certain amount of money are getting that money,” Gallagher said. “I think right now they’re doing the right thing, and maybe it took a little bit of encouragement, but I’m certainly pleased to see that it happened.”