University says 403 graduate students did not receive first paycheck

By Serena McMahon

Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

The Graduate Employee Organization has received official word from the University of Massachusetts that 403 graduate student employees were not paid by the University on the first payday of the semester.

The official number came Nov. 2, more than a month after the GEO filed an information request with the University. On Sept. 25, hundreds of graduate student employees complained of not receiving their first paycheck.

GEO co-chair Santiago Vidales said the numbers are daunting, since 63 percent of graduate student workers were not paid because of delays in human resources such as missing documentation, failure to process paperwork by the payroll deadline and other problems, according to information provided by UMass.

The University has held the position that the majority of paycheck delays are through the faults of graduate student employees, such as not filling out paperwork properly or not handing it in on time.

Vidales said the issue of late pay stems from a “structural, systemic dysfunction” within the University, noting that GEO is seeing an infrastructural failure within the UMass payroll office, specifically that there are not enough personnel to be handling the abundance of forms necessary to process payroll.

Only 127 graduate student employees that went unpaid were first time hires, the information request revealed. Additionally, out of the 403 student employees that went unpaid, 342 graduate employees were eligible for an emergency salary payment, but only 145 of them received the actual ESP for one reason or another.

ESP is a system in place through the University which grants graduate student employees 80 percent of their gross pay if not paid on time.

The document further breaks down the number of graduate student workers that did not get paid by department. The highest included the computer science department with 39 unpaid student workers, followed by the education department with 32 and the electrical and computer engineering department with 27 unpaid student workers.

Although not all departments had as many unpaid workers as these, Vidales said the overall list of unpaid student workers is concerning

UMass spokesperson Patrick J. Callahan referred the Collegian to a University news release from last month and said the school had no further updates.

The release outlined the settlement agreement with GEO and University in the fall of 2014, which “sets up an emergency salary payment system for eligible graduate employees.”

Vidales said although ESP is a step in the right direction, it is still a flawed system.

He said the University is waiting until the last minute to tell student employees their paychecks won’t be available.

“By that time, it’s either too late or the office is closed, the bank is closed and they have to wait the whole weekend (to receive their ESP),” he said.

The GEO put the University under pressure to release the official numbers sooner than the original Nov. 20 deadline by creating a petition that got roughly 500 signatures and sharing an open letter to Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy.

In October, the organization met with Katherine Newman, provost and senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, and John McCarthy, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the graduate school, to discuss the late pay and increase in wages.

Vidales said student workers were supposed to see a 3.5 percent wage increase by this semester, after the University and GEO agreed upon it last semester.

Vidales said Newman and McCarthy claimed responsibility for the late pay in the meeting.

“Dean McCarthy said the system is broken and they’ve taken accountability for it. Now moving forward we need to figure out how we are going to continuously meet with UMass to be part of the solution.”

He said the next meeting between GEO and the University is set for Nov. 20th to discuss the future of student worker pay.

Vidales said next steps include guaranteeing the wage increase and possibly implementing an electronic system for all graduate student-worker forms that also includes creating an early alert system for employees when the University knows they cannot pay them on time.

By warning student workers earlier rather than at the last minute about their delayed paycheck, they will have more time to access the emergency salary payments, Vidales said.

“That’s where we are at now, making sure UMass hears us, continues to engage us to find a solution,” he said.

Serena McMahon can be reached at [email protected]