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UVA payment delays to grad workers highlight wage concerns

A statue of Thomas Jefferson stand in front of a building with columns and a domed roof
At least 40 University of Virginia graduate student workers did not receive their stipends on time during the holidays, according to an on-campus labor organization. A representative of the organization said Tuesday that most of the payments have been fully processed by banks and received by students. (File photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Members of the United Campus Workers of Virginia at UVA met with university executives on Tuesday. They discussed next steps for the payment of delayed stipends and sought assurances from the university that delays won’t happen again.

Brooke Dinsmore is chairperson of the UVA chapter of the statewide union, which also has members at Virginia Commonwealth University and William & Mary. Dinsmore said the group focused on the late payments at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I have to appreciate that they gave us this time, that there was a dialogue,” Dinsmore said. “I think that's really a product of our organizing around this.”

Dinsmore said most of the payments have been fully processed by banks and received by students, noting the university released all the stipends for processing upon learning of the error. Still, she said late payments are nothing new to many UVA grad students.

Shayne Zaslow, a seventh-year sociology Ph.D. student researching drag performance, said despite maintaining part-time employment on top of their graduate work, they’ve racked up thousands in credit card debt trying to make ends meet.

“I am exceptionally lucky to have been able to pay my rent with my very small and now mostly depleted savings account,” Zaslow wrote in a statement read by Dinsmore at a Monday press conference.

“This is not the first time this has happened, which communicates the low value the university places on graduate students,” they wrote, “both as workers and as people with bills to pay and families to support.”

Another graduate student, Crystalina Peterson, said the delay kept her from buying groceries for two weeks.

The university also promised prior to Tuesday’s meeting to organize a task force to uncover the root cause of the delay. State Sen. Creigh Deeds (D–Bath County) got involved, urging UVA staff to include graduate students and members of UCWVA in the effort.

Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Brie Gertler told VPM News in a statement the task force will “determine how to ensure that such delays do not recur; this may mean adopting new systems or processes.”

Gertler said the task force will include representation from student leadership and university staff.

The union urged Provost Ian Baucom to make funds available to students to cover late fees and interest that resulted from late payments. The university agreed — though Dinsmore said staff did not commit to a timeline or a simplified approval process to access the funds.

She said previous reimbursement approvals have been complicated and drawn-out, requiring multiple levels of university staff to review them before approval. A one-form, one-submission process would reduce that delay and the chance that funds won’t be approved, according to Dinsmore.

Despite the delay in payment, Dinsmore said the union was energized by the episode and is ready to refocus on its priority of increasing pay for grad students: “It really shows that when we come together collectively, that we do have the power for the institution to listen and respond.”

UVA previously committed to raising the minimum stipend to $30,000 dollars yearly for doctoral students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

The union has said a living wage in Charlottesville is closer to $38,000.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.