Since the school year began, student activists at New York University have been waging a public war with the school’s administration over what they see as predatory efforts to squeeze cash out of students. And just two weeks ago, university officials appeared to cede some ground when they agreed to pay some housing costs to an undergraduate they had previously threatened to expel if she didn’t shell out thousands to live in campus housing.
But now members of the Student Labor Action Movement (SLAM) are claiming the university hasn’t been paying some of its student employees for months – and NYU’s graduate employees labor union (GSOC) filed a grievance last month with the same complaint.
Haley Quinn, an NYU senior and SLAM organizer isn’t sure how many students haven’t been paid, but she and other student organizers keep hearing the same story. “Not only are they not paying them enough, they’re not paying them,” she says. “It’s an example of NYU not respecting its student workers.”
Non-payment is also affecting the university’s graduate student workers according to Patrick Gallagher, an executive board member of Local 2110, the United Auto Workers chapter that includes NYU graduate employees.
“The local is working with graduate employees who have filed a grievance against NYU because NYU has violated our contract by delaying pay,” says Gallagher. “A lot of people haven’t been paid since August. There’s no excuse for that.”
It was not immediately clear why paychecks would be delayed – and neither the union nor SLAM said they have received an official response from the university. The current pay flap comes a year after members of GSOC threatened to go on strike, demanding higher wages, as well as a new contract that included a larger child care benefit, free health insurance for students and their dependents, and a tuition fee waiver for all Ph.D employees. The two sides reached a five-year agreement in March.
NYU processes between 3,000 and 6,000 student employee checks each month, and acknowledges there are students with “pay discrepancies.” Still, university officials wouldn’t offer much detail on why checks weren’t going out. “The university is working diligently to identify the issues in each student’s case,” writes Matt Nagel, NYU’s director of public affairs. “We cannot promise a check will be issued until the needed information is collected from the students’ supervisor. We understand why this delay would frustrate anyone involved and we’re working to get these issues resolved as soon as possible.”
But at least one student says she filled out the requisite paperwork and still hasn’t gotten a response – or a paycheck.
“It’s frustrating when I have to choose between buying a week’s groceries or buying textbooks for midterms,” says a student employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The senior politics major says she’s owed roughly $600 – but noted the university paid her regularly until the fall semester rolled around. “I know $10 an hour isn’t a lot of money,” she adds, “but it’s my only stable source of income.”
SLAM is planning a sit-in at 3 p.m. on Friday at the NYU Welcome Center, where members plan to demand a meeting with Michele Zarrella, the school’s director of payroll. Organizer Robert Ascherman says the protest is part of a campaign to bump student wages to $15 an hour – but this particular sit-in is about something more basic.
“The first student who told us about it said, ‘if I didn’t have a meal plan, I’d literally be starving,’” Ascherman says. “There’s no end to the greed and evil that is NYU.”