Instead of meeting in their usual classrooms and offices, student workers taught their classes on the steps in University Center to protest missing and late payments from the university on Thursday, Nov. 30.
The work-in was organized by SENS-UAW, The New School’s union for academic student workers. Their goal was to highlight the ways student workers contribute to the university — from instructing classes for younger students to leading recitations for large lecture classes to researching studies for professors.
Late payments are not a new issue for student workers, according to Mark Rafferty, an economic student at NSSR who is a member of the bargaining committee for SENS-UAW. It has been a concern since 2014, when demands for a union began.
SENS-UAW has received University data on the number of late payments for workers, but Rafferty said the data was unclear.
“According to the information [the university] gave us, according to their own story they’ve told us, it’s hundreds of people [missing payments] and those people were being underpaid anywhere from a couple of bucks to hundreds of dollars or thousands of dollars,” Rafferty said. “And this goes back several years. That’s the most exact number I can give.”
Srishti Yadav, who is also an economics student at NSSR and member of the bargaining committee, has personally suffered late payments that totaled $1,035, she said.
Yadav began her first position at The New School this semester as a research assistant.
Last spring she had received the offer and job description, but not all of the proper documentation she needed as an international student to be properly onboarded and recieve her social security number.
“There was a lot of emailing back and forth between a lot of different places,” Yadav said. “I was just trying to see where and who to get the different document from. After I did get onboarded, I started getting paid from the fourth pay period [on].”
She learned that the pay she was owed would be split up evenly to be paid over the course of the semester. Yadav said she was not given a choice to receive the payment all at once or over a period of time and is still owed $107.
“If I had gotten it as a lump sum I would’ve been able to budget in a much more organized manner and now I have a lot more money coming in at the end of this month, but I need money right now,” Yadav said. “Right now I’m so broke I think I might have to borrow it from somebody.”
Douglas Del Toledo, a sociology student at NSSR who is both a research assistant and a teaching assistant, has had late payments multiple times. Only once he was repaid over the semester. The other time he received the money as a lump sum.
Del Toledo said that each time he has been paid late he has to talk to multiple administrators to figure out which of his two jobs he is missing money from and then establish a way to get that money.
“It’s really difficult because on top of being in this distress caused by a lack of payment, we still have to take multiple steps with multiple people to figure out what’s happening,” Del Toledo said. “Every time it’s just a hustle and not knowing when you’re going to be missing money because you get paid late. It’s super complicated. Sometimes I just had to struggle with the money that I had in my account to make ends meet.”
Rafferty said that many academic student workers rely on this money to pay for rent, groceries and other basic expenses. When the money they are owed is not given to them in one lump sum, it causes financial stress on those workers.
“This whole thing if we pay you late, we’ll just divide it evenly and pay you over the rest of the semester — that’s not the way owing money works. When you owe somebody money, you pay it back,” Rafferty said.
The SENS-UAW bargaining committee has made proposals to the university to deal with issues involving late payment. They have proposed procedures on how to onboard workers and a 2 to 5 percent late fee when a worker is paid late.
“We said there should be a clear system for how you get hired, how you get onboard; then we should have the right to be paid on time clearly laid out in that contract, so that if we don’t, it’s a breach in that contract. As we’ve seen right now, the system doesn’t work,” Rafferty said.
Yadav said that the reason to include a late fee was to incentivize the university to pay workers on time.
“We have to make tuition payments to the school, sometimes while we’re not being paid and if we make a late tuition payment, the first day it’s late, we get charged $150. At the same time when the school pays us late, there’s no penalty,” Rafferty said. “There needs to be a system that holds the school accountable.”
SENS-UAW said the university felt that these proposals do not need to be included in a contract. When The New School Free Press reached out to University representatives, they declined to comment on these issues as they are in the process of bargaining with the union, they said.
The members of SENS-UAW hope that after bargains with the university end, they will have a strong contract that protects them from late payments. The work-in was was a way to show their demands in the bargaining process.
“We think we are going to win these things because we have the power, we have the labor that makes this school run,” Rafferty said. “Ultimately, that’s what got us to the negotiating table and that’s what’s going to end up winning us all of these demands. There’s a reason they’re called demands, not asks.”
Photo by Orlando Mendiola