UW-Madison is cutting the work week of its student employees to no more than 29 hours to conform to requirements of the Affordable Care Act, a move some student workers say will make it harder for them to stay in school.

“With less hours, many students will have to juggle two jobs, and that will definitely hurt academic success,” undergraduate student worker Reid Kurkerewicz said in comments provided by the Student Labor Action Coalition (SLAC).

“UW-Madison student workers would love to work less hours so they can put their academics first, but Chancellor Blank refuses to pay a living wage, making that impossible for many working class students,” said Jia Gonitzke, an undergraduate student worker.

Student leaders at SLAC, whose mission is to engage students in labor issues, say they are concerned that not only student workers, but other limited term employees of the UW-Madison will see cuts to their hours so that the university doesn’t have to offer them health insurance.

A university spokesperson put the number of student workers at UW-Madison averaging 30 hours a week at less than 30 in a July article in the Badger Herald campus newspaper. SLAC members say they that total is much higher.

The ACA requires large employers to provide affordable basic health insurance to employers who work an average of 30 hours a week or more. UW-Madison officials say that the UW System is considered a single employer under ACA. So, under the new rule, student workers would be limited to 29 hours a week total for all jobs with UW, on any campus.

“What many people don’t realize is that UW’s limited term employee’s income will be reduced by as much as 25 percent, making it incredibly difficult to provide for themselves and their families,” said SLAC member and UW-Madison senior Luke Gangler.

The decision to cut the hours of limited term employees working on the UW-Madison campus overlaps with other worker policies, like wages, Gangler said.

“They are adding insult to injury around workers’ rights,” he said.

Gangler also questioned whether it is legal for the university to cut hours to avoid offering health insurance to its workers, an issue that is now in the federal courts with a lawsuit brought by workers at Dallas-based Dave and Buster’s restaurants.

He maintained that the university has options other than cutting student hours, like paying a penalty for not offering insurance.

Campus officials raised the minimum pay for student workers from $7.25 to $9 an hour this fall, after protests over not adopting a $15 an hour minimum, which is the goal of a national campaign. That was an increase UW-Madison could not afford, officials said.

UW staff who supervise student workers were informed of the new work hours rule in emails circulated this summer.

“Effective immediately, student hourly employees legally cannot work more than 29 hours a week for ALL CAMPUS JOBS,” read an email that went out June 28 under the signature of Madeline Raudenbush, a staff financial specialist for Associated Students of Madison, the campus student governance group.

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Student workers typically were limited to 25 hours a week during the academic year, but some students worked more hours during periods that classes were not in session, Raudenbush said in a follow-up email.

The UW does not have the ability under state law to offer group health insurance to students, spokesperson John Lucas said in an email.

“A large percentage of our students are covered under parent’s coverage or UW-Madison Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP), however this does not exempt UW from the ACA requirement to offer group health insurance coverage to students who average 30 hours per week or more," Lucas said. "Therefore, UW must limit student working hours in order to be in compliance with the ACA.”

Lucas added that campus administrators are aware of what the cut in working hours will mean to some students and hope a proposed change in federal law will release universities from the responsibility of providing coverage for students working 30 hours or more a week.

“UW-Madison is very concerned about the hours cutback required by this law as many of our students are dependent on these hours to assist with educational expenses,” he wrote.

“There is currently an active student worker exemption bill that would exclude students who are employed by an institution of higher education and carrying a full-time academic workload from being counted as a full-time employee in calculating shared responsibility regarding health care coverage under the ACA," Lucas said. "We are hopeful that there will soon be some momentum with this bill and changes made so that students will not be negatively impacted by this law.”

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