Major San Jose State University employer furloughs hundreds of students
San Jose State University is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Ramona Giwargis.

Hundreds of San Jose State University students lost their on-campus jobs amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic that’s shuttered schools, businesses and forced Silicon Valley residents to stay indoors since mid-March.

San Jose State became one of countless campuses across the nation to shut down following government directives to shelter-in-place. Then one of the largest private employers of students at the university, food provider Chartwells, furloughed students across the country, including students at San Jose State, threatening the livelihood of some of the lowest-income residents.

“San Jose State students are facing many concerns on campus during COVID-19 and Chartwells is contributing to the hardships students are facing,” said Associated Students President Branden Parent, adding that the company isn’t helping to place the students in alternative jobs.

Although Parent told San José Spotlight on Friday that 300 students had been laid off, university administrators could not answer questions about how many were laid off, furloughed or resigned. They confirmed a day after publication that almost all employees were furloughed.

Charlie Faas, the university’s vice president of finance and administration, said 296 part-time student associates were furloughed and 34 others left on their own.

Chartwells pays its workers through a revenue stream that includes funding it receives from student meal plans, according to university administrators. Students who regularly eat at the dining hall pay into a system where they can use credits for meals. But more than 80 percent of the university’s 4,200 students who live on campus have gone back home, leaving just 700 students left on campus who could be paying into the system.

While the parent company Compass Group North America Inc. would not release the total number of workers it has laid off or furloughed, according to the Charlotte Observer, the company has more than 280,000 employees nationwide.

The company could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Some auxiliary services on campus, such as the Associated Students and the Student Union, have already agreed to pay their student employees until May, Parent said. But with Chartwells, he added, “there seems to be a lack of support towards the sole community members of our university — our students.”

San Jose State still pays students like Parent because the university collected those funds from students’ tuitions. Unlike the university- affiliated jobs though, Chartwells is a private company contracted by the school, Faas said.

“We’re in a tough spot when it comes to dining on the campus,” Faas added. “Unlike some other auxiliaries (on campus), the revenue stream that comes into housing or comes into the dining commons is all paid for by students who are using those facilities.”

With most food operations across the campus shut down, the food company is struggling to financially support itself like many other food service providers are at the moment, he said. Faas added that many students also decided to leave their jobs because they didn’t feel comfortable working in food service in the midst of the pandemic.

Still, Parent is worried about the low-income students who need to keep working, as they will not qualify for other financial assistance — such as the federal government’s $1,200 stimulus check — if they are considered “dependents” on their parents’ tax returns.

“If we’re claimed by our parents, we can’t receive the $1,200,” Parent said. “For students, there’s still that cost of not only just rent, food, but we still have the cost of tuition, supplies, and what goes into schooling.”

To help those students in need, Faas said the university will be distributing $14.4 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus, Air, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. In addition, university staff created a crowdfunding campaign to support students which has raised $72,328 since March 25, according to university spokesperson Robin McElhatton.

“We are pleased and grateful, and we know this will help our students,” SJSU President Mary Papazian said. “We are currently working through the process to disperse the funds and we will inform our students once the process is in place.”

Students can apply for the fund and receive housing, medical and housing assistance by clicking here. They can file for an unemployment claim here.

Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

Editor’s Note: Due to a source error, a previous version of this story reported the SJSU student workers were laid off. This story has been updated to reflect 330 students were furloughed. 

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