On the night of Tuesday, Feb. 22, student employees at the RecPlex were sent a message from Assistant Director of Fitness and Programming in the Department of Recreation, Betsy Blagys, regarding their employment for the remainder of the semester.
In the email given to The Mirror by a RecPlex staff member, Blagys states that due to the mask mandate being lifted on Monday, Feb. 28, the RecPlex would “no longer be staffing at the level we have been,” and regards this email as something she has “been dreading”
Fairfield University President Mark R. Nemec, Ph.D. released a message on Monday, Feb. 14 announcing the end of the mask mandate for the Feb. 28 date, and these University-wide changes have prompted the RecPlex to readjust their staffing and scheduling.
Director of Recreation Eli Olken-Dann outlined that the end of the mandate correlates with staffing in many ways.
He listed no longer needing student employees to enforce capacity counts in all areas of the RecPlex, no longer needing to dedicate student employees towards mask enforcement and compliance, no longer needing the amount of cleaning and sanitation efforts that were put in place due to COVID and no longer needing students to monitor specific areas of the building related to programs and services offered as reasons for the changes in staffing.
During the height of the pandemic, between four-six people worked each shift. Now, “The building staffing model is 2 to 4 people per shift .. two people at the front desk, one person in the equipment room and, when warranted, one “floater” who will be situated in the weight room and responsible to cover other positions as necessary,” said Blagys in a Feb. 24 email to all staff.
Employees seem to agree that the building was overstaffed, so these cuts are fairly practical considering the change in COVID-19 guidelines.
Supervisor at the RecPlex, Delaney Hall ‘22 said, “Since cases on campus have been consistently low this semester and with the lifting of the mask mandate, the extra staff are no longer needed in that regard,”
Carly Manzi, a three-year-veteran at the RecPlex and first-year supervisor agrees, and said “We are already over staffed as it is and now we have less of a responsibility which requires less workers.”
“The RecPlex was already overstaffed even before the mask mandate,” said Fiona Tynion ‘22, a staff member at the RecPlex who has worked as a non-work study student since September of 2019. Tynion was taken off of the schedule as a result of recent changes.
Students whose hours have remained protected include the entire Intramural sports staff (who are primarily non-work study) scorekeepers, referees, lifeguards and supervisors, “because they perform a specific function,” as per Olken-Dann.
Olken-Dann assures that staffing changes will only impact the building staff, who are primarily non-work study students. Currently, the RecPlex employs 83 building staff members. “After the cuts, we will be employing 58 building staff,” leaving 25 students to lose their weekly shifts.
Blagys writes “After discussing this with Eli and taking into consideration our operating budget, starting next week, Monday [Feb.28], shifts will be covered by our existing scheduled Federal Work study staff.”
All 25 students affected are non-work study students, meaning that their job was not federally-funded to help cover the cost of their education.
“In the event that a shift does not have FWS students, we will take a look and decide which students keep the shift,” said Blagys to employees.
Although the budget was mentioned in the original email to staff, Olken-Dann implores that “This is not necessarily a budgeting issue.” Instead, the reality is that the RecPlex “…will no longer need the amount of students that we had in place during the pandemic, and we have prioritized students who were awarded federal work study money.”
This notion is unclear to some staff-members, however, as they are under the impression that funds, or issues related to funding, are more seriously related to this change at the RecPlex.
“My understanding is that this is a budget issue and the RecPlex couldn’t afford to keep us all on even before the change was made,” said Tynion
Senior Julia Brown has been a staff member since her sophomore year. She sees the shift cuts as understandable, and says “I was told it [staffing changes] was for budgeting reasons.” For that reason, she says, “I think they are reasonable in that sense.”
Olken-Dann clarified to The Mirror that affected students are “… NOT going to be terminated, they will still be eligible to take sub shifts from students who cannot make their regular time slots and will remain on the departmental communication chains.”
Shifts for students averaged to about six hours total each week, according to Olken-Dann, and for some students, losing that pay can be difficult.
Hall began working during her first year as a work-study student. Although she is no longer a work-study student, she has been able to keep her hours each week due to her supervisory role.
“I do feel bad for all of the students losing their shifts because I believe many of them are like me in the sense that the money I earn from the RecPlex is my spending money week to week,” said Hall. “It’s hard enough to get a job on campus without a work study reward, so to lose that job and that money as a college student isn’t an ideal situation.”
Employees that are taken off of the schedule will not be taken off of payroll. If COVID-19 protocols and mask-wearing become mandatory again, Olken-Dann said, “… these 25 students would instantly be put back on their shifts and/or added to existing shifts where we would need more building staff.”
Blagys let all staff, whether they were put on the schedule or not, know via email that if shifts are available, they are available to take. However, she wrote “Preference will be given to staff that has no scheduled shifts and to staff that does not have another job on campus.”
Alaina Moger, now graduate student, has worked at the RecPlex since September of 2020, while she was an undergraduate student. She said, “While I feel bad for the kids losing jobs and/or hours here, so many other places are hiring right now due to being short-staffed so I think they should look into working elsewhere!”
Tynion was surprised by the news, and how abruptly the change would be implemented. “They could’ve given us a warning about the possibility of a change and then given everyone time to find a new job on or off campus.”
Although this change is not ideal for affected employees, Olken-Dann said that, “The bottom line is that since the covid-19 restrictions are being lifted, we no longer need the amount of staff we had in place during the pandemic.”