On Feb. 18, the University announced that they would be implementing WorkForce Time (WorkForce), a new timekeeping system to track hours for on-campus workers. The University implemented the system on July 27, according to an all-campus email from Associate Controller Melanie Messier.
WorkForce was introduced to streamline time-keeping processes, according to the all-campus email sent on Feb. 18 by Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer and Treasurer Andy Tanaka ’00 and Vice President of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer Dave Baird.
“Workforce will simplify processes and consolidate the current multiple reporting systems into a single system,” the email read. “We’ll use various technologies—including time clocks, computers, phones, and tablets—to document time worked and to record leave. A significant amount of paper waste will be eliminated, and supervisors will be able to approve hours quickly.”
The original announcement was immediately met with outrage from student workers and staff alike who cited concerns about the use of geo-fencing technology, a lack of transparency from the University about their contract with WorkForce, and the fear that the software will be used to cut employee jobs and pay.
On Feb. 26, soon after the University announced the change, Physical Plant and clerical and secretarial workers voted unanimously to oppose WorkForce in a union meeting.
United Student/Labor Action Coalition (USLAC) wrote and circulated a petition condemning the switch to WorkForce, which amassed over 1,300 signatures. The petition restated concerns about geo-fencing surveillance, a technology that tracks the location of workers to determine whether or not they are in the workplace. The petition also stated that WorkForce threatens to cut jobs and compensation, poses a lack of transparency about implementation and cost and logistical concerns; further, the petition claimed that WorkForce markets itself as an anti-worker organization.
USLAC member Ivanna Morales ’22 said that her concerns about WorkForce arose immediately after learning about the new system, especially because many employees were not consulted about the transition to WorkForce.
“In the spring, when we first found out that WorkForce is going to be implemented at the school, we were concerned,” Morales said. “First of all, with how fast everything was going and how most workers had no say.”
Morales added that her worries only grew after researching WorkForce further.
“We did our own research and looked at their website and what they promoted, and a lot of it was focused on cutting wages and, you know, maximizing productivity and lowering labor costs and all these other things that basically announced that the school was trying to get this new system that was sold as an anti-worker system in many ways,” Morales said.
Like Morales, Sustainability Director Jen Kleindienst was concerned about the implementation of WorkForce, namely due to the nature of the jobs in the Sustainability Office not being suited to a timekeeping system such as WorkForce.
“I will admit that I was skeptical from the beginning of whether or not it would be easier,” Kleindienst said. “It really feels like WorkForce is built for offices that have students physically come to work, to work shifts. You know, students going to Olin to work the circulation desk. You clock in, you clock out. That’s your job. Most of the jobs in the Sustainability Office are meeting for an hour, spending 10 minutes writing emails, spending 17 minutes emptying a compost bin, lots of small tasks.”
Assistant Director of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships (JCCP) Diana Martinez also anticipated issues with the new technology software and expressed concerns about how much additional work the new system would generate.
“We have, at any point, anywhere between 15 and 18 different programs operating under our umbrella, managing hiring folks,” Martinez said. “For 18 different programs is a huge undertaking, it is a lot of work figuring out which program people are working with.”
In response to widespread concerns from students, faculty, and staff, on Mar. 1, the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) unanimously passed a resolution calling for an immediate halt to the administration’s implementation of WorkForce.
Despite the growing opposition, the University went through with the implementation of WorkForce time, which was made official by Messier’s July 27 email. The email also advertised available training materials as well as Zoom WorkForce support hours to help aid everyone in the transition.
Kleindienst noted that the University worked ahead of time to prepare supervisors to use the new system.
“Over the summer Wesleyan introduced WorkForce and they did a lot of prep ahead of time talking to supervisors,” Kleindienst said. “Throughout the process, everything was presented as ‘this is going to make everything easier.’”
Despite promises from the administration that WorkForce would streamline the process of logging work hours, has created confusion for many employees and presented a host of challenges.
“As with any major change in systems, the transition to WorkForce has been a bit bumpy and there has been a learning curve for everyone,” Director of Media & Public Relations Lauren Rubenstein wrote in an email to The Argus.
Rubenstein also insisted that most of the issues with WorkForce have been worked out, and the implementation has saved time and made processes easier.
“The implementation of Workforce has had the intended effect of saving staff time by streamlining payroll processing as we’ve moved from multiple systems of capturing and recording time to a single system,” Rubenstein said. “As a result, we’ve been able to free up staff time that previously was used to perform manual processes, allowing us to strengthen internal control procedures around reviewing payroll data.”
However, many students and staff members do not feel that any streamlining has occurred. Student workers at Long Lane Farm reported that the system has created, rather than addressed, problems with recording hours and processing payment.
“It’s brought up a lot of issues that I kind of feel like we never had to deal with when we did the method of payment that we did last year, which did not involve WorkForce at all,” Farm Financial Manager Cameron Williams ’23 said. “We were not able to use WorkForce on the farm for, I would say at least half the time, like half the semester, which was very frustrating because then obviously people were just not getting paid.”
Cameron Berry ’22, who also works on Long Lane Farm, said that one of the major issues with using WorkForce has been the fact that the system is often not able to detect that workers are on the farm. Not to mention, campus WiFi does not extend to the farm’s location; for students who do not have a cell phone data plan, this has posed major issues with clocking in and clocking out.
Berry added that the setup of WorkForce has brought extensive logistical challenges relating to payment.
“The biggest problem I think for most people, has been the fact that for the first like seven or eight weeks the farm was not using WorkForce, like it wasn’t set up yet,” Berry said. “And so we had been recording hours the way we did in previous years, which is a system that worked for all of us very well… And they said they would back pay all of that and they have not done that yet. So there’s like seven or eight weeks worth of wages that have not been paid.”
At the time of publication, according to Williams, these wages have not been paid.
“We are still waiting,” Williams wrote in an email to The Argus. “The hours have now been submitted for the 4th time now. Payroll keeps saying they need us to do more work to make the retro hours similar to the WorkForce format thus creating roadblocks.”
Physical Plant employees also expressed frustration with WorkForce, citing a wide range of issues with the software, including the geo-fencing feature.
“We’re in our own building, clocking in and out and it’s not working,” Material Handler and Physical Plant union steward Kris Patterson said. “We’re doing all this stuff that you’ve put in place for us to use it. None of it works.”
In response, the University turned off WorkForce’s geo-fencing feature for Physical Plant in November, after months of disagreement.
“The geo-fencing feature is one good example of the technology not working as expected,” said Rubenstein. “When we realized it wasn’t accurately logging employee coordinates where they were punched in, we de-activated the feature.”
HVAC/Utility Mechanic and union steward Pete McGurgan noted that another issue with WorkForce is that it does not take into account the nuances of Physical Plant’s contract with the University.
“There’s a contract that WorkForce Time never considers,” McGurgan said. “There are all sorts of little nuances to it.”
For instance, if a Physical Plant employee stays past 3:30 PM (the end of Physical Plant’s work day) to finish a project they are supposed to be paid for a full hour of work, even if they did not work for the full hour.
“Employees who are required to work less than one-half (1/2) hour beyond their regularly scheduled work day, or who are required to work less than one-half (1/2) hour before the start of their regularly scheduled work day, will be paid the minimum of one (1) hour of overtime,” Article V, Section 5 of the Physical Plant Union contract reads.
However, since WorkForce calculates time worked in quarter hour increments, it does not take this part of the contract into account.
“WorkForce Time can’t do that,” McGurgan said. “So I’ve had that happen to me many a time, and I’ve submitted the proof of it and it still has yet to be fixed. That was months ago… It doesn’t take into account that we made an exception to keep things in a more fluid flowing fashion.”
As a result of their disagreement with the University over the use of WorkForce, Physical Plant has brought a grievance against the University. Currently, according to McGurgan, Patterson, and union steward and Electrician Phil Huntington, that grievance is in step three, meaning that union stewards have presented the grievance in writing to the Director of Human Resources Lisa Brommer and Assistant Vice President of Human Resources Toby Bates. According to Rubenstein, the members of the administration will meet with Physical Plant union stewards this week.
If the grievance is not resolved with Human Resources, the grievance proceeds to step four and to arbitration with an independent arbitrator. In this case, the arbitrator’s decision will be final and binding. Alternatively, instead of proceeding to arbitration, the University and Physical Plant can request that a Federal Mediator provide assistance.
Major issues with WorkForce are not limited to Long Lane Farm and Physical Plant. Many student workers, with a variety of jobs, have encountered serious problems with the system.
Tammy Shine ’21, who both works at Science Library and is a Course Assistant for Elementary Statistics, mentioned that wage theft has been a serious issue due to the infrastructure of WorkForce.
“I would definitely say one really annoying thing about Workforce is from what I’ve seen, it only pays you in increments of quarters of hours,” Shine said. “If you’re logging five minutes, it’s going to round down to zero. It will only log it as time paid if it’s an increment of fifteen. So it will be either 4.25 hours, 4.5 hours, that kind of thing. For my CA job, which is more by the minute, I’ll just stop it whenever I finish. I feel like sometimes I’m losing money in that way.”
Shine added that WorkForce adds extra tasks for student workers as they go about their jobs each day, and in particular complicates the process of clocking in and clocking out.
“You have to clock in and clock out at the exact times that you are coming in and leaving work and it’s hard because I’m not used to it,” Shine said. “Either I’ll forget to clock out or I’ll forget to clock in, things like that. The frustrating thing about it is if I make a mistake, I can’t change the hours myself. I have to email my boss and tell her what happened and ask her to fix it for me, which just feels inconvenient for both of us.”
Violet Daar ’22, who works as a Course Assistant and is also a member of USLAC, said that WorkForce has not only made recording working hours more difficult, it has also taken away positions from student Financial Managers in clubs and student groups on campus and added work to the plates of supervisors.
“Along the same lines of this narrative of streamlining and all of that is the University saying like, oh, it’s going to make everything so much more efficient, like it’s going to be great,” Daar said. “All this stuff. And we’ve heard the complete opposite from people who are dealing with payroll and so a lot of people used to—who were financial managers who used to have that position now can’t do it as a student and a certain kind of supervisor has to do it. So now the supervisor who is doing all this other important work is spending like days of their week doing payroll, which is ridiculous, and obviously the opposite of efficient.”
Morales also pointed out that addressing issues with WorkForce has added tension between student employees and their supervisors.
“And during this time when we only kind of see our bosses through Zoom or through a very limited [way], it kind of makes it a tense relationship,” Morales said. “You know, what used to be a really like close, tight-knit like workplace is now like ‘Oh, like I messed up on this or I forgot to clock in here. I did this wrong.’ It’s like numerous emails, because I don’t know the system, they don’t know the system and it’s just not conducive to a good working environment… It just kind of creates this like antagonistic environment, almost.”
Staff members who supervise student workers agreed that WorkForce has only added to their workload.
“If the student does anything other than clock in at the beginning of their shift and clock out at the end, it will likely require additional manual approvals from their supervisor,” Assistant Director of Admissions events Jordan Nyberg said. “Even something as simple as the student forgetting to clock in and typing in their times instead forces the supervisor to go in and tell the system that the action was OK. It’s absolutely worth the effort to make sure that everyone gets paid for their time worked, but each of these manual approvals requires time and it starts to add up when you’re doing approvals for many students each week.”
The manual aspect of processing WorkForce quickly becomes tedious for supervisors that oversee many students.
“When I process payroll, I also then have to grapple with error codes and overrides for 150 students every week,” Martinez said. “And so if a person manually entered their time, I have to manually approve every single instance of the manually entering time.”
One of the reasons for errors with logging hours in WorkForce is that Federal Work Study prohibits students from working during class time. However, since many students’ schedules change substantially during Drop/Add, the system is currently filled with outdated schedules that prevent students from correctly entering their hours.
“I’ll get error messages anytime a student works during what is designated as their class time,” Kleindienst said. “Throughout the semester I’ve had numerous students in the office, either email me or note in the comment section of their time sheet entry ‘Hey, I had signed up for a class during this time, but I dropped it a while ago I don’t know why it’s still showing that I have class now’ or ‘Hey, this class pretty much always ends a half an hour early because it’s a lab’ or you know, whatever the case might be. And so that adds another layer where I need to email every single student that has something like that show up, check in with them, have them respond.”
Kleindienst also expressed frustration at the Finance Office’s response to issues with the system.
“One of the main frustrations is that the perspective of finance has been, ‘Hey, this is a new platform. And, you know, as we, as we get used to things, people will get used to it. And then some of the issues will go away over time,’” Kleindienst said. “And I certainly think that that will be true for people who continue to work, but anyone who employs students or works at Wesleyan knows that students graduate and leave positions. And so it might be better in the spring semester than it was in the fall semester, but then I’m going to hire new students and we’re going to start this all over again and then over and over and over again.”
Morales said she thinks that issues with WorkForce are not isolated concerns.
“Yeah, I think I’ll get on my little soapbox and just say that like this is a symptom of a much, much larger problem at Wesleyan,” Morales said. “We see time and time again that Wesleyan puts a profit over people, over the workers.”
Claire Isenegger, Sophie Griffin, and Olivia Ramseur contributing reporting.
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