Associated Students of Madison leaders will continue pushing for legislation this Tuesday in response to a University of Wisconsin wage policy to not extend student hourly positions to undergraduates telecommuting from outside the country following a decision to table the legislation last week.

ASM reps. Samuel Jorudd, Lennox Owino and Brian Li sponsored legislation last Tuesday calling for UW administrators to extend payment to all student telecommuting workers, whether or not they are inside the U.S. 

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ASM Chair Matthew Mitnick said the legislation addresses the policy’s lack of transparency or forewarning to students telecommuting outside the country and its disparate impacts on international student workers — including several ASM representatives.

“There are students in ASM who are serving on committees and are performing the exact same work that other students are performing and they are not getting paid for it,” Mitnick said. “And even when we have tried to pay them, the administration has forced us and has literally denied wages.”

In addition to the call for the extension of payment to telecommuting student workers outside the country, the ASM resolution requests a list of risks and liabilities associated with international telecommuting be provided with legal reasoning and retroactive compensation for students denied wages.

Following attempts from HR to determine whether students planned to complete work from outside the country, the university asked ASM to add a question to its payroll form Sept. 25 about the students’ location, according to a timeline provided by Mitnick.

As the payroll approver, Mitnick received a notification about the new form’s question Oct. 6 that would bar students working from outside the U.S. from getting paid.

ASM representative Brian Li — who is an international student currently telecommuting from China — said he has not been paid for working on a committee he serves on as a requirement for his ASM position under the policy, while other representatives who are telecommuting from inside the country are receiving pay. 

According to a memo sent by HR Director Cheryl Adams Kadera and a telecommuting flowchart from July, telecommuting for undergraduate student workers was still an option. Li said administrators claimed the policy was instituted in the beginning of the semester across campus — both Mitnick and Li said they were unaware of the policy change until late September. 

“[This policy] was very unexpected, because I was not informed of this policy after I started working,” Li said. “And when I was asked to disclose [my location], it was not mentioned that this will influence how I would get paid.”

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In an email statement to The Badger Herald, UW spokesperson Meredith McGlone said the university currently has 7,880 students in hourly positions — 500 are international students. 

Under the policy, McGlone said many of these individuals are learning virtually outside the U.S., and they are not logging hours in their student hourly positions while outside the country. McGlone said all student workers who have performed work will be paid as they report their hours — not retroactively, as the ASM legislation calls for.

“All employees who have worked will be compensated,” McGlone said in the statement. “The assertion that UW-Madison is actively not compensating dozens of international student workers is not true.”

When asked if the university was considering the demands outlined in the pending ASM legislation, McGlone said there are “significant” complexities and risks associated with allowing employees to telecommute from other countries. 

To change the policy, McGlone said the university would have to account for each countries’ different requirements and standards for employers in various areas including employment law, international payroll tax obligations, cybersecurity, data privacy safeguards, export control provisions and worker’s compensation liability requirements.

McGlone said complying with these laws and requirements would require “significant effort” by campus staff responsible for managing many other challenges, specifically amid the pandemic — leading them to their decision on the policy.

“In an effort to continue being good stewards of our campus resources, we chose to focus on supporting the permanent employees and graduate students working remotely from outside the United States,” McGlone said in the statement. 

When first asked if he was working inside the U.S. on the updated payroll form, Li said he mistakenly misinterpreted the question about his working location and indicated that he was in the U.S. 

It was only after talking with other ASM representatives from outside the country who were not getting paid that Li retracted himself from payroll. Li said he was given two choices — continue working without pay or quit.

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“During this whole process, I was not warned by anyone or any party that this is a potential issue,” Li said. “So if, as they said in the letters, there are potential liabilities and risks that are so serious, I would suppose I would be contacted or reached out by anyone like immediately after I said yes. So, I doubt that measure is to cut the budget or to really protect the university from those potential risks.”

In an email sent to Mitnick, Li, Lennox and Jorudd about a letter to the editor on the policy, Chief Human Resources Officer Mark Walters said the staff members communicated policy changes to human resources staff in the schools, colleges and administrative units prior to the beginning of the fall semester. 

Walters said in the email that the university apologized if some students working outside the country were not “properly notified” of the changes — however, Walters said the administrative decision not to extend student hourly positions to undergraduates telecommuting from outside the country will stand for employing units on campus. 

Mitnick said himself and the other authors of the legislation believe the policy constitutes as worker discrimination and wage fraud. University staff members and graduate assistants can telecommute from abroad with pay, leading Mitnick and the others to believe UW should implement the payment infrastructure to prioritize paying undergraduate students workers in the same position. 

“This is specifically targeted towards students who are currently on international soil — the vast majority being international students,” Mitnick said. “We believe this falls right under the definition of discrimination, in that state statute we reference as a characteristic that somebody can’t necessarily control is being held over them in terms of compensation.”

In McGlone’s email statement, she said the UW policy is not discriminatory because the restriction is based upon the location where work is being performed and not the identity or background of the student. 

The committee planned to vote on the ASM legislation last Tuesday night. Though, after Dean of Students Christina Olstad sent a copy of the email Walters sent to the aforementioned authors of the legislation to all ASM representatives, ASM members voted to table the legislation.

After extensive debate, Li said some ASM members expressed concern about the legislation and tabled it in order to consider proposed amendments — which Li believes were already covered in the legislation. 

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Mitnick said he would urge all ASM representatives to pass this legislation. Mitnick said Owino introduced an amendment to specifically demand this institution no longer discriminate in its hiring practices by hiring students based on location or asking students to disclose where they are located on employment forms.

Mitnick said he “seriously question[s]” the motivations of ASM members in opposition to the legislation.

“It is important that representatives do not cave in to the will and mischaracterizations by the administration in watering this down from its original intent … Many of those who argued to table the legislation are currently being paid,” Mitnick said. “I wonder whether their narrative would change if they were the ones being denied pay for their labor.”

In a meeting with Walters, Mitnick and Li both said the administrator called international student telecommuting workers’ efforts “not essential” to university operations.

Li said he hopes the ASM legislation passes Tuesday night to not only pay international student workers, but show respect for their contributions to campus.

“Our input, or personally my input, should be valuable and beneficial to making a better campus because I was voted to sit for the [ASM] position,” Li said. “To say that my contribution or my input is not essential to university operations is discouraging, which is disappointing not only me, but my other fellow reps who are also telecommuting.”

The ASM resolution will be discussed at their virtual meeting this Tuesday.

This piece was updated on Dec. 8 at 12:24 a.m. to reflect a correction that Dean of Students Christina Olstad sent the email to ASM representatives, not Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Lori Reesor.