Student employees at Safe Ride have filed multiple complaints against UA Parking and Transit over recent policy changes that they say are discriminatory and damaging to the organization’s operations.
Most of the complaints concern a scheduling practice implemented in late October that prohibits international student employees with F-1 visas from working more than 17 hours per week, even though they are permitted by federal law to work up to 20 hours per week.
Safe Ride is a nighttime shuttle service funded by the Associated Student Government and administered by Razorback Transit, which allows students to request safe transportation to their homes from anywhere in Fayetteville. There are six regular student employees on the Safe Ride staff.
Prakshyapan Prasai, a senior and Safe Ride driver from Nepal, is one of two international students employed by Safe Ride. Prasai thinks he is being discriminated against solely because of his national origin, he said. He sees no valid reason for his weekly hours to be cut, especially because non-international students have no such new restrictions on their employment.
“I understand if they cap it at 20 hours, because that’s how much we’re supposed to work,” Prasai said. “But capping it at 17 hours, that’s a 15% reduction in our earning capabilities in the middle of a pandemic.”
Prasai filed a discrimination complaint with the UA Office of Equal Opportunity and Compliance on Nov. 7.
David Wilson, communications director for UA Transit and Parking, said his department began scheduling international students for 17 hours in order to “provide a cushion or a safeguard” against exceeding their allotted 20 work hours, which could jeopardize their right to remain in the country.
“The entire arrangement is in place to protect them,” Wilson said.
In Prasai’s two-and-a-half years at Safe Ride, there has only been one instance in which he mistakenly exceeded his hours, he said. It occurred because of a misunderstanding about how hours were tracked in the university’s human resources system shortly after he was hired, and has not been an issue since.
“I understand that (they) might have been doing this out of concern for us, but this position that we’ve been working at Safe Ride never requires us to go over time,” Prasai said. “(They) don’t need us to stay for more than we’re scheduled for, so there’s no way we’re ever going to cross the 20 hours.”
Jascha VanBrunt, a senior and one of two Safe Ride leads, has not had any scheduling problems with the international students she oversees, she said.
Since she became a lead two years ago, VanBrunt and her fellow team leader have scheduled the international students for no more than 20 hours, and allowed them to clock out and have other drivers sub in if a shift needed to be extended. They also scheduled them for 19.25 hours a week in order to provide an extra safeguard, she said.
“It was clearly discrimination simply because they’re international students,” VanBrunt said. “And the policy didn’t make sense because, rather than helping them not go over their hours, it’s limiting their hours. And the international students have way more of an incentive to care about not going over their hours than Transit and Parking people.”
The new scheduling practice was accompanied by several other policy changes, which Razorback Transit staff began to implement after Safe Ride’s former manager resigned in October, Van Brunt said. She said these have included revoking the leads' abilities to make their team members’ work schedules, attempting to cut hours of operation and allowing Razorback Transit employees from outside Safe Ride, who are paid more than the regular employees, to work overtime shifts in the vans and dispatch office.
The changes to Safe Ride’s power structure and employee responsibilities have resulted in disorganization, miscommunication and confusion about who is in charge, VanBrunt said. She thinks altering Safe Ride’s previously established system of operations has undermined the organization’s function as an important safety resource for students.
“They’re just coming in and they’re trying to do Safe Ride and make it efficient, but we already have done that because we care about Safe Ride,” VanBrunt said. “We’re not just here for bottom lines, we know people on a first-name basis because we have regular callers.”
VanBrunt, in conjunction with her co-lead, filed a complaint on the university’s COVID-19 compliance website and appealed to both the Offices of the Chancellor and Student Activities, which oversees ASG. The COVID-19 complaint concerns the outside employees, who VanBrunt said do not always correctly wear masks while in the Safe Ride office. VanBrunt decided to request outside help because she felt she was disrespected and her concerns were dismissed during conversations with Razorback Transit leadership, she said.
Wilson said that because the issues are not yet settled, “it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on specifics related to an individual employee's job performance, or to any potential accusations or ongoing investigations.”
Prasai, whose OEOC complaint is under investigation, said he refuses to remain silent about or submit to what he sees as blatant discrimination.
“Establishing a precedent like this, where international students get treated differently because of their nationality is not good,” Prasai said. “It’s not good at all. I have to stand up for myself and for my fellow international students.”