Sunday, September 17, 2006

Chemists Unite!

Every semester here at NYU begins with a significant number of problems with getting our paychecks. These problems include delayed paychecks, entirely missing paychecks, and paychecks for the wrong amount. Because of the history of such problems, our union contract contained a rare clause specifically requiring the University to pay us appropriately and on-time. Despite this fact, we filed greivances every year to get our pay (greivances that lead the administration to claim we filed to many greivances), and NYU lost every one and usually was forced to turn over money quickly.

This year, of course, we have no such recourse. And yet graduate student employees from a wide variety of departments have begun the year without receiving their first paychecks, which were to have been distributed this week or earlier depending on the employees' work schedules.

The most glaring offense has been in the Chemistry department, where workers ordinarily receive their first paycheck in the first week of the year because they have been working in August (unlike those in many other departments). This year, Chemistry GAs did not receive their checks. Instead, they received an email announcing that the pay they were due in this first paycheck, pay they needed for rent, food, medical expenses, and textbooks, would be divded up and provided bit by bit over the rest of their paychecks for the year. In other words, some of the pay due to the chemists in September would not be available until May, giving NYU the opportunity to earn high interest rates on other people's money.

The chemists were angry. And so they marched on the GSAS administration offices and presented a quite reasonable demand: that their pay be restored by the beginning of October, at the latest. Even that date would create considerable hardship for many GAs, including those international students who the university forces to enroll in additional ESL classes without providing tuition remission (while native English speakers who take second languages can do so for free). The chemists GSAS Associate Dean David Slocum that they were not willing to wait and take their chances with the "interm greivance procedure," as other GSOC members have been winding their way through the procedure for 6 months without receiving any results. And we will see what happens next.

Thought NYU housing was expensive before? NYU has abandoned some of the lowest-cost housing (at less than $900 a month) and instead created a new housing option at $2,000 a month. For the 2-bedroom apartments in this building, NYU is now raking in $4,000 a month total. Given what the Washington Square News calls the "notoriously small" spaces in these apartments--rooms are 8x10 or smaller and do not fit beds larger than twin--NYU is clearly engaging in above-market-rate price gouging.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Learn how to fill in your timesheets, and follow up on making sure that your departmental administrators sign them. It's not the evil empire that's delaying your paychecks; it's your inability to familiarize yourselves with the protocals for making sure you get paid on time.
quit whining and be proactive. Or are you too busy posting these stupid entries to do that?

9/17/2006 2:42 PM  
Blogger specter of marx said...

Anon, we don't fill in timesheets. This is not due to inaction or incompetence at the individual or departmental administrative level. It's a systematic snag owing to payroll, which affects large groups of people. I think the chem GAs *were* being proactive in taking this issue to the dean as a collective.

9/17/2006 6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the grad students have a letter of employment or other statement by the NYU saying that they will be paid in September, they can pursue legal means against NYU. If they don't, then they are more naive than I would have thought.

This isn't a union issue - it's an issue of ensuring that your individual employement contract is clear before you agree to it.
That means having a written statement saying when your first paycheck will arrive.

9/18/2006 8:21 AM  
Blogger specter of marx said...

Anon, you've just made the case for unionization. Since each worker in each department is battling the same work-related problem here (due to a systematic glitch, no less), and since they all ostensibly share the same terms of employment, it makes sense -- just in terms of shear efficiency of time and resources belonging to both the workers and the university -- to address this collectively. That's the purpose of a union contract.

9/18/2006 9:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, unionization would just shield the employer from legal action. The grad students affected, assuming they have employment letters stating when they are to be paid, most likely have legal recourse. According to the blog post, the union wasn't effective in getting the paychecks on time any more than the individual students were; perhaps a large number of formal claims for late wages, filed with the NY state authorities, would be more effective. I think the grad students can also go to small claims court.

Forms here

9/18/2006 10:49 AM  
Anonymous E. said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9/18/2006 10:54 PM  
Blogger Bread and Roses said...

When the union files a grievance, it is taking legal action against the employer. However, it is taking legal action for all the employees at the same time. This make it much easier for the employees to get what they deserve.

You are right that we probably could sue NYU to get our pay. However, since NYU has many highly-paid lawyers and we can not afford lawyers, it would be unlikely to work to our benefit. Besides, litigating a case generally takes months, which wouldn't help us pay our September rent.

9/19/2006 1:01 AM  
Anonymous E. said...

Okay I thought that was a bit harsh. I revisited this page to do so myself. Knowing the circumstances and feelings of many involved however, I am sure you understand. I find it funny how "proactive" you are in censuring some things and not others but that is entirely your right.

I'm not a Marxist, nor idealogue in this matter. It is just that many people feel that some of the problems which the union formerly gave them redress to deal with are now cropping back up. I could list a number of them.

I think what often goes overlooked is that many students were not able to continue or even take part in the strike because they are from disadvantaged backgrounds and absolutely depend on that money. By that same token, it was not entirely appreciated by the community that not all the grad students were upper middle class and middle class students motivated by their personal politics.

If indeed these problems are systematic (and deliberate), guess who will be paying the highest price again. Good job in sticking together to address the matter.

9/19/2006 1:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

isn't it funny that the chem department was one of the least pro-strike at NYU? bet they're sorry now they don't have a union. hopefully they'll be more eager to get involved this time around.

when gsoc wins, everyone wins.

9/19/2006 5:54 PM  
Blogger kstrna said...

isn't it funny that the chem department was one of the least pro-strike at NYU? bet they're sorry now they don't have a union. hopefully they'll be more eager to get involved this time around.

Maybe the don't like what GSOC offers as a union. Being anti-GSOC doesn't always equal anti-union. Look at the Soldiers of Solidarity and their critiques of the UAW. You can't accuse the Soldiers of being anti-union. Given how the strike was run, GSOC doesn't exactly bode confidence in its ability.

The fact the Chem GAs were able to organize and protest begs the question why hasn't the GSOC been able to organize them more effectively.

9/19/2006 8:35 PM  
Anonymous John Sexton's Worst Nightmare said...

anon, it's not actually true that chem ists didn't support the union or the strike. Many did, but were intimidated by the admin's fear tactics or simply hadn't had enough contact with the union. The department is overwhelmingly composed of international students.

1.there is not "the" before GSOC.
2. in this case it was more about GSOC's ability to contact folks than their rejection of the union on ideological or performance-based grounds. In the spring petition drive, chemists demonstrated their support for the union in large numbers. They continue to do so now.

9/20/2006 4:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of people at NYU have problems with payroll. This is because the payroll clerks are morons, NOT because of an insidious "anti-GSOC plot." Get over yourselves. As for housing, $2000 for a toilet is NOT above-market in NYC. Did you do any research at all before you came here? Lastly, I wish you WOULD be granted "worker" status, because then you would be taxed on EVERYTHING to do with your stipend package. I would love to see you over-priveleged eggheads pay and suffer like the rest of us "peons." No one supports you anymore, by the way. Your arrogance alienated the undergrads, staff, and everyone else at NYU.

9/22/2006 2:17 PM  
Blogger specter of marx said...

Anon, no one's claiming this payroll issue is an "anti-GSOC plot." You're right, every other worker at the university faces this issue along with us. But that's the point: we are workers at the university -- just like everyone else -- and as such, we have a right to union representation, if we so choose, to advocate on our behalf on such issues. No, bureaucratic delays in pay are not exceptional or part of some nefarious scheme; sadly, they are a very routine aspect of working life at NYU, and they shouldn't be.

9/22/2006 10:56 PM  
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