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COVID-19 Updates

Assignments for seasonal, intermittent workers terminated in troubled times

Nelson fitness instructors, other employees unsure if work at Brown will restart once campus opens

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Fitness instructors from the Jonathan Nelson ’77 Fitness Center have expressed concern that their assignments were ended as opposed to furloughed.

While all of the University’s permanent staff workers have been able to keep their jobs, seasonal and intermittent employees including programmers, seasonal cashiers and interns and fitness instructors and trainers have not been as fortunate. These workers, who could not continue their assignments remotely, were terminated April 4. 

Seasonal and intermittent employees are typically hired for “limited duties and a specific short-time period,” Vice President of Communications Cass Cliatt wrote in an email to The Herald. Many of their responsibilities “don’t support the current state of operations for the remainder of the academic year.” Temporary workers are staffed through external staffing agencies to work full- or part-time positions “to fill a temporary need in a unit,” such as Brown Dining Services workers, grant- or industry-funded research assistants and event-based workers, Cliatt added.

“These non-regular workers would not collect paychecks from Brown when they are not working, independent of the current pandemic, and given current financial realities, Brown’s primary responsibility must be to its regular employees,” Cliatt wrote. 

Fitness instructors from the Jonathan Nelson ’77 Fitness Center, whose job assignments fell under the seasonal and intermittent workers category because they work seven hours per week on average, have expressed concern that their assignments were ended as opposed to furloughed, which is a temporary period in which employees do not work and are not paid. 

This announcement came as a shock to many staff members at the fitness center, especially those who have been working there for years. “We were told that we were terminated and we would have to reapply for jobs whenever (the fitness center) … reopens,” said former Nelson fitness instructor Kay Rutherford ’81 P’18 P’21. Until now, instructors at the fitness center have not had to reapply each school year to maintain their positions .

“It really didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I mean, I’ve been there for 14 years, and I’ve never taken any time off ever,” said former Nelson fitness instructor Serena Swartz.

The fitness instructors learned that their assignments would be ending through a March 26 email from their supervisor. 

“We were informed of what was going to happen, which was basically that we were to be terminated without much explanation,” Rutherford said. “That’s part of why people got so upset, because there was a lack of information.”

“One of the reasons that they said that we couldn’t really do our jobs is that we couldn’t provide any distance learning, which is incorrect because I can do my classes through Zoom,” former Nelson fitness instructor Lora LoPiccolo said. Instructors communicated the idea of continuing to offer fitness classes remotely to their supervisor prior to their termination, she added.

Many of the fitness instructors have expressed concerns that they will not be able to support their students during this time, many of whom have regularly attended the same classes for years. 

“People depend on us being consistent and rely on us to be their instructors,” Swartz said. “We’ve built (a) rapport with (our students), and they come to our classes and personal training because of us,” she added. 

Additionally, the instructors have expressed concerns about their future at Brown, wondering if the University will avoid hiring back someone “who’s been there for 12 years, who’s making a higher price point per hour,” LoPiccolo said.

“They keep saying that Brown is … all about the people, the people are the strength of Brown, and if that’s the case and they value us so much, why wouldn’t they just furlough us and have us come back?” Swartz said. “It doesn’t make sense to have to go and start from scratch … Everyone is really devastated because … we’re like a family.”

When the University resumes normal operations, hiring managers in individual units will determine when it is necessary to refill seasonal, intermittent and temporary work roles again. The University previously announced a hiring freeze, but hiring managers will be granted exceptions to fill these positions and the “hiring process will be expedited,” Cliatt wrote. 

Additionally, for employees who are reapplying to previous positions, they will have to fulfill any new elements of the hiring process that might not have been required when they first applied, such as background checks, Cliatt said. 

“It’s really up to the hiring managers to decide to bring their people back or what process they want to go through,” Cliatt said.

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