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'Not worth my sanity at all': Carolina Union workers express concerns over working conditions

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UNC students walk by the Student Union on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022.

The Carolina Union is the third largest employer of students on campus behind Carolina Housing and Campus Recreation. Employing approximately 140 students, Union employees have unique — sometimes difficult — experiences based on the positions that they hold. 

One of the most common grievances that Carolina Union student employees have is the pay. Employees say it is not enough for the work required of them. The average student pay range is between $9.50 to $11 an hour based on their position.

As an employee, students are required to work at least 10 hours a week throughout the semester, including finals week. Students also open and close the Union — sometimes as late as 3 a.m. 

In an email statement to the Daily Tar Heel, Alexandra Marchesano, the executive director of the Carolina Union, said academics come first and the Carolina Union works with its student employees to come up with a schedule at the beginning of the semester that works around academic and personal schedules. Because of this, students may work after traditional working hours. 

BJ Miles, a UNC senior, worked for the Carolina Union in guest services between November 2021 and December 2022 before quitting after experiencing multiple issues with his team's leadership. 

“The job itself I loved, it was just the extra stuff — the coworkers, the managers, the way everything was handled that was horrible,” he said. 

Miles said he was scheduled to work during fall break in 2022 without signing up for those shifts. He then emailed his supervisor about the scheduling and said he felt they did not prioritize his concerns.

“The Union can be very demanding, and sometimes when they’re demanding, they forget that we’re students at the end of the day,” he said.

In a written statement to The Daily Tar Heel, Miles recommended that the Carolina Union provide better training for supervisors to handle conflict and issues with employees, as well as better training for supervisors to make their workplace a more inclusive and safer environment to bring concerns. 

“For $9.50 an hour this job was not worth my sanity at all,” said Miles.

A current Carolina Union employee who asked to remain anonymous said that they've enjoyed their time working there and the team has been very flexible with scheduling. 

They said that about two years ago, the Carolina Union had a lot of restructuring to help improve departments, including increased support for student organizations and more opportunities for student leadership and engagement. While they said it benefitted their team, other departments are still a “bit shaky,” due to the absence of around-the-clock full-time staff. 

"At night, in the evenings there isn’t full-time staff all the time. On the weekends, there isn’t full-time staff at all,” she said. 

The Carolina Union employee said that with the restructuring, however, there is now more of an expectation for full-time staff to not just be there from nine-to-five, because students work much earlier or later hours than this. 

In her email, Marchesano said that many full-time employees work outside the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. work hours, including two part-time employees who support evening events and operations. 

TJ Edwards, a student at the University, works at the Union as an audio-visual coordinator and is chair of the Carolina Union Board of Directors. While they love their job because of the people, they said they feel as though the pay at the Union is unfair for the amount of work asked of student employees. 

While they had previous experience working in the AV field, they said a lot of people come in not knowing how to operate a soundboard or lights, and the current staff ends up having to teach them. 

“They are expected to be able to perform at a high level in these roles for $10.30 an hour when you’re an assistant,” Edwards said.

At the beginning of the school year, Edwards started the Student Employee Conditions Committee, an ad hoc committee designed to fight for the increase of student employee pay with the end goal of 15 dollars an hour. 

In her email, Marchesano said that the Carolina Union continually works to make sure that student employees feel supported through efforts such as the Forum of Union Student Employees, as well as the Student Employee Development Committee. 

“We’re always having smiles on our faces because of the environment and work culture that we’ve created as students,” Edwards said. “But the actual work of it is not the part that makes me like coming into work.” 

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@dailytarheel | university@dailytarheel.com