Following urgent public health guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, colleges and universities across the United States took the unprecedented steps of moving classroom instruction online and requiring students to leave their residence halls. As a result, third-party vendors who employ retail and service staff on college campuses made the decision to lay off or furlough most of their employees.
At Northeastern, remaining room-and-board costs are in the process of being refunded to students. Nearly 400 employees working on the university’s Boston campus in dining and parking positions were temporarily laid off by their employers, LAZ Parking and Chartwells Schools Dining Services.
To assist these and any other campus workers who may be laid off or furloughed by their employers in the near future, the university will offer a robust set of resources, at no cost. These will include connecting these workers with temporary employment opportunities through Northeastern’s extensive co-op employer network, and educational assistance tailored to the individual needs and circumstances of each worker.
Alysa Gerlach, vice president and assistant treasurer at the university, said Northeastern is committed to the well-being of contracted workers on its campuses who have been affected by the current public health and economic crisis—and were laid off by their employers through no fault of their own.
“What we’re trying to do is be helpful in a very active, Northeastern kind of way,” Gerlach said. “It’s a hard time because nobody knows what the future is going to bring.”
Although the university has been providing complimentary language education to service workers for years, the courses are now being redesigned to support their immediate needs, such as applying for jobs online, and communicating with potential employers, government agencies, and their children’s schools.
For those with some college experience, Northeastern will create pathways for completion of bachelor’s degrees that will be available through its Summer I and Summer II terms.
Northeastern has longstanding relationships with thousands of co-op employers, including CVS, Uber, Lyft, Amazon and others that are currently hiring to fulfill the increased demand for delivery of products and services while people are being ordered to stay at home.
The university will enable the workers to take advantage of its employer network to identify job openings, and provide individualized career coaching that will include assistance on how to apply for jobs, write a resume, and perform to expectations in an interview, as well as consultation on career mapping and planning.
Of the close to 400 workers who were recently laid off, many workers were contracted to work in parking garages and in university dining halls and campus restaurants. Among them, 364 were employees of Chartwells Schools Dining Services, which staffs and manages the student dining halls.
“So many of these people have been part of the Northeastern community for so long, and they’ve contributed so much to students’ lives,” said Maureen Timmons, director of dining services at Northeastern. “They’re always taking care of Northeastern, and I love the idea that Northeastern is going to take care of them.”
In addition to the new opportunities provided by Northeastern, the retail and service workers who were laid off are eligible to receive significantly expanded unemployment benefits from the federal CARES Act, which was signed into law March 27 to provide workers with expanded unemployment compensation. They will immediately receive the amount they would normally qualify for under Massachusetts law, plus an additional $600 per week.
That additional $600 emergency federal benefit continues for up to 18 weeks, through July 31. This emergency benefit is designed to substantially replace the wages of workers laid off as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The employers who provide retail, dining, and security services to Northeastern expect to rehire most workers they temporarily laid off as a result of COVID-19 when campus operations return to normal in the coming weeks.
The university has designated Karen Cardozo, assistant vice president for employer engagement and career design, to serve as the principal point of contact for all contracted workers interested in taking advantage of the new benefits. Cardozo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.