The University chapter of United Campus Workers of Virginia, a union for Virginia college and university workers, claims that the University still has not rectified the issue of missing and late payments to student workers in a letter to University leaders. In the face of administration statements that the problem has been rectified, the group continues to demand stricter financial policies and an expanded staff to enforce payment timelines.
In the letter — addressed to Provost Ian Baucom, Vice Provost Steve Farmer, Vice Provost Brie Gertler, Assistant Vice Provost Phil Trella and Dean China Scherz — the group wrote that since winter break, University student workers are still missing up to thousands of dollars in pay for weeks at a time. This letter, published March 3, follows action by UCW-VA U.Va. in December 2022 when multiple graduate student workers said that they had not received payment for their work, calling on administration to #CutTheChecks in a Twitter movement.
“This [graduate student] labor sustains the University, and we deserve to be paid fairly for it, including being paid on time,” the letter states.
128 graduate student workers and 10 University faculty, staff and students signed the letter, which demands late penalties for delayed payments and an expanded Graduate and Financial Administrators team.
Laura Ornée, UCW-VA U.Va. chapter chair and graduate student, sees the alleged payment issues as representative of the University’s larger attitude towards graduate student workers.
“We know an institution's values are reflected in its budgetary decisions,” Ornée said. “To truly prioritize paying graduate students workers on time, U.Va. executive administration must adequately staff the divisions responsible for this process and compensate all workers with competitive, livable wages.”
She spoke to the importance of graduate student workers’ service to the University by teaching, carrying out research and assisting professors with grading and creating curricula.
University Spokesperson Bethanie Glover said that administration created the requested task force last month and has been actively communicating with UCW-VA and student representatives. The group has been developing recommendations for improvements in payment processes, according to Glover.
“Following the letter from the UCW at U.Va., U.Va. Student Financial Services ran a check and did not find any evidence of continued delay or disruption in stipends or wages,” Glover said in an email to The Cavalier Daily.
Glover said that any students with concerns about payments should contact their departments directly.
In the December letter, UCW-VA leaders initially called for five specific outcomes from a University task force to address the issues, including implementing policies that stipulate timelines for student reimbursement and payment and hiring more Student Financial Services staff to ensure student workers get paid in a timely manner.
“So far, none of the tentative system improvements mentioned in the update from the task force propose increasing resources towards the administration of graduate student worker pay,” Ornée said.
Along with claims that the University has still not properly resolved the issue, Ornée pointed to the consistency of payment delays in the past, and said she has received a late payment at least twice in her four and a half years as a graduate student worker.
“I think it's emblematic of how graduate students are not a priority in any way,” Ornée said in a December interview with The Cavalier Daily. “If we were, then there would be a smoother system in place to prevent stuff like this from happening.”
Since graduate workers already receive an income below the living wage for Charlottesville, many graduate students said they lack savings to draw on when payments are delayed. Graduate student incomes range from $15,000 to $37,000 per year, while the living wage is estimated at $38,168.
Questioning whether current Virginia labor laws are sufficient in protecting graduate student workers, Ornée believes additional legislation may be needed to help graduate student workers.
Ornée wrote letters to Delegate Sally Hudson and Sen. Creigh Deeds in December to alert local leaders and urge them to push University administration to solve the issue. Ornée said Sen. Deeds publicly supported UCW-VA U.Va. on Twitter, and both him and Delegate Hudson got in touch with University administrators, urging them to solve the issue.
Encouraged by such public support, Ornée said she remains committed to remedying the payment process and making graduate student voices heard.
“We will keep fighting collectively until the University executive administration adequately addresses this issue,” Ornée said.