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Wages for overnight hosts: why they may not be fair

Many students do vital work on this campus, but few are paid in accordance with the importance of their work. Take, for example, overnight hosts, students who help convince prospective studentsto attend Beloit College. Each prospective student represents a deal worth tens of thousands of dollars, and the overnight hosts that entertain them are expected to bring that money in by selling the Beloit experience. Despite their crucial role, these students are paid only $18 to $20 for 5 to 8 hours of work.

Recently, Beloit Young Socialists contacted several senior staff members about this situation, asking why such students in such an important role were being paid for only two and a half hours’ work at minimum wage, despite being responsible for hosting their prospective students for an entire evening, night, and morning. 

Aside from the ethical inadequacy of this pay, this system appears to be in violation of the law, specifically the Fair Labor Standards Act, which stipulates that any employee, even those paid a flat fee, must receive at least $7.25 per hour of work or on-call time.

In response, the administration held what they called an “emergency meeting”.

Overnight, they stopped using the words “employment” or “compensation” in favor of “volunteer”, and replied to the email saying overnight hosts had always been thought of that way. This is blatantly untrue; overnight hosts sign contracts which call them “employees” and remind them that, because they “are being compensated”, they are not to “leave [their] prospective student alone” throughout the entire visit.

The FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) is clear on this topic: volunteers cannot be compensated. They can only be paid a nominal fee, which can’t be tied to productivity. As an overnight host at Beloit, if you work two nights in a row, you receive another stipend. This is clearly counter to the mandate of the law.

Overnight hosting is a job, a job that requires time, effort, and resources from the students in question. Hosts are expected to clear their evening of meetings, have all academic work finished ahead of time and work through a long evening of scheduled events. Some students even have to rearrange or cancel shifts with other jobs to host prospective students. Despite this, the administration is unwilling to pay overnight hosts the legally required minimum of $36.25 for the five hours spent doing hosting work, not to mention other time spent with their assigned prospective students.

Images by Levi Moos, Beloit Young Socialists

This is not isolated, but part of a pattern of exploitation of student labor. According to a recent survey conducted of Beloit College students on Facebook, 64% of student employees say they aren’t compensated fairly for their work on campus. Across the board, the college compensates student workers pathetically, but overnight hosts are in a unique position. Each potential incoming freshman represents as much as $60,000 of revenue. The overnight hosting process is essential to convincing these students to attend, and given the state of Beloit’s finances, the loss of even a few students would be devastating. Considering how poorly compensated overnight hosts are, admissions should consider themselves lucky if they even show up to work. Remember, collective power is real and solidarity is a power tool.

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