NYU Apologizes to Unpaid Student Workers: 'We Have Not Been Flawless'

NYU Apologizes to Unpaid Student Workers: 'We Have Not Been Flawless'
Steve and Sara Emry for the Village Voice

After outcry from student employees who say they haven’t been paid in months, New York University has issued a letter of apology, vowing to work with students who are owed back payments.

“NYU understands its obligation and takes it as a point of honor that student employees are paid what they are owed on time,” reads an October 16 letter to student employees sent by Martin S. Dorph, NYU’s executive vice president of finance and information technology. “Unfortunately, we know that we have not been flawless in fulfilling this obligation. If you are a student worker who has had suffered a delay in being paid, I want to offer an apology.”

The letter directs students who haven’t been paid to file a detailed complaint, and notes that the most common reason for non-payment is incomplete paperwork or improper documentation of hours worked. And while the university says most cases are resolved in a matter of days, the letter directs students to use its “emergency loan” program, which promises financial relief within 48 hours.

Read the letter in full: 

Date: October 16, 2015
To: Student Employees
From: Martin S. Dorph, Executive Vice President Finance and Information Technology
Re: Student Employee Pay Issues

NYU understands its obligation and takes it as a point of honor that student employees are paid what they are owed on time. The vast majority of the time, they are.  Unfortunately, we know that we have not been flawless in fulfilling this obligation. If you are a student worker who has had suffered a delay in being paid, I want to offer an apology.

However, more important than an apology is a solution and a path forward. After hearing concerns from students who experienced delays in receiving their paychecks, the university wants to make certain that student employees know what to do when problems arise.

The most common reason for someone being paid late or less than the hours he or she worked is incomplete paperwork to put them on the payroll (which typically is required at the start of a semester) or lack of or inconsistent documentation on hours worked.

If you are a student employed by NYU and did not get paid on your regularly scheduled pay date (missed a payment), please contact askpayroll@nyu.edu or contact PeopleLink directly at 212-992-5465. Please provide the missed pay date, the corresponding dates in which you worked, and the name of your immediate supervisor. NYU staff will begin trying to track down what the problem is right away.  Most cases get resolved in a few days.

For regular questions on student pay, such as how to complete your time sheet, questions on their paycheck, etc., that are not "back pay" related, please continue to use the normal service process, which is to contact the PeopleLink center via phone or email (212-992-5465 or askpeoplelink@nyu.edu).

We know that students often have significant financial needs and really depend on their student pay. If you are continuing to experience a delay in receiving your paycheck and need the money urgently, the University has a system in place to help. Student employees can inform the Office of the Bursar or the Office of Student Affairs of his/her status, and the University will then make an accommodation to provide the student with an emergency loan within 48 hours.

Student employees can find additional information on our website.

Let me close by stating how much we value the many important contributions to the university by our student employees.

NYU’s letter comes after an October 9 protest from members of the Student Labor Action Movement, an undergraduate organization that has been critical of NYU for what it says are predatory efforts to extract money from students. Haley Quinn, a SLAM organizer, says student activists were granted a meeting with NYU administrators and were largely happy with the result.

“It’s a good first step,” says Quinn. “Getting NYU to even admit that its student workers are workers is important. We’re hoping they’ll continue to respect student workers when we’re asking them to do more than just pay them on time.” Quinn notes that the group will pressure the university to pay students $15 an hour.

The university’s response is drawing mixed reactions from students, some of whom are glad the school has acknowledged the problem. But others continue to claim their paperwork is in order and that they still haven’t been paid — and are wondering why the university is offering loans instead of direct payments.

“I thought it was great that they got back to us on it. I’m just a little skeptical,” says one student employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity. She says she filled out the correct paperwork but is still owed roughly $600.

The senior politics major is also critical of the university’s suggestion that students accept loans so that it can meet its payroll obligations. “If they have the resources, and the ability to give emergency loans...why can’t they use that to pay us?"

In a statement provided to the Voice, NYU spokesman Matt Nagel said the university is committed to rectifying the payroll issue, but stressed that the incident was limited to just a few student workers.

"NYU is committed to paying all its employees, student or non-student, fully and on time," said Nagel. "We take every instance of reported late pay very seriously, but this is not a widespread problem." 

The university writes as many as 6,000 paychecks per month, he said, adding that as of last week, only 50 incidents of non-payment had been reported.

"Of those, 40 were less than a week old," he said in the statement. "Since then, all but one of those original cases has been resolved and we’re working attentively with the student to resolve the last one."

But NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee, the labor union that represents grad students, wasn’t so optimistic.

“Apologies are cheap. Rent isn’t,” the organization wrote in response to the university’s letter. “Scores of workers, graduate and undergraduate, dutifully completed every bureaucratic hoop that NYU sets out for employees, only to face arbitrary and illogical delays in getting their timely pay.

“We demand that NYU act on its professed valuing of our labor starting in some very simple ways,” the letter continues. “Pay us correctly, and pay us on time.”

View the university's entire statement to the Voice below:

NYU is committed to paying all its employees, student or non-student, fully and on-time. We take every instance of reported late pay very seriously, but this is not a wide spread problem.

We had a meeting with the students to discuss this issue more than a week ago and had a good conversation. We explained that we have had long standing process in place to identify and address any pay issues that might arise. However, we heard back from the students that many of them were not aware of the processes that were in place or even where to find the information they needed.

So, that was the basis for sending a memo to the university community last week: to inform students what steps they could take if they did have a problem, and the resources we have to help.

NYU writes as many as 6,000 checks per month to students. At the time of meeting, there were 50 identified students who had a discrepancy with their pay; of those, 40 were less than a week old. Since then, all but one of those original cases has been resolved and we’re working attentively with the student to resolve the last one.

Our preference and first priority is always to get the students any pay they're owed quickly. However, we have a back-up plan in case there's a delay, because we know the students rely on the money: providing a student with an emergency loan. When we pay a person, the law requires that us to ensure that the “i’s” are dotted and “t’s” get crossed; giving out a loan in an emergency situation is fully at discretion of the university. The emergency loans are there to ensure that students who need immediate assistance are able to get assistance they need. 


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