Yesterday at 3pm, a delegation of grad workers and the president of UVA StudCo met with Provost Baucom and Vice Provosts Phil Trella and Brie Gertler. In response to our demands, they were open to committing more resources to the problem of late stipends–a significant change from before. But we found it unacceptable that they don’t have a timeline for housing cost reimbursements, so we’ll stay vigilant.
Our delegation began the meeting by telling our stories about being chronically underpaid – leaving health problems untreated, not being able to keep our cars running, and using community resources to fill the pay gaps left by the University. UVA undergraduate and StudCo President Ceci Cain spoke about graduate TAs being the people undergrads rely on the most, for everything from learning class material to reference letters to handling life events. One graduate worker, Crystalina Peterson, told her story over Zoom because her daughter was ill and UVA does not pay her enough to afford childcare. Living paycheck to paycheck, as many of us do, is what makes a late payment really sting; Crystalina’s family hasn’t bought groceries in two weeks because of the delay. One of her colleagues has yet to be paid on time even once.
After these vivid illustrations, we presented our demands: 1. Immediate payment of all missing stipends; 2. A one-step, simple-to-access fund to cover any late fees; and 3. Concrete steps to ensure that this chronic problem never happens again.
In response, Provost Baucom committed to the following: making all late payments; and making graduate workers whole from fines and penalties, but without committing to either a timeline or to a simple process, as we’ve emphasized. Baucom also committed to resolving the problem before the next round of stipends is set up this summer and this situation could possibly recur. Lastly, Baucom stated his intention to form a task force to determine what exactly went wrong with the most recent payments and to recommend what needs to be done to fix it.
Vice Provost Gertler also committed that grad workers suffering late fees on their rent and utilities “will be made whole.” UVA will begin by asking landlords and companies to waive late fees, and will send official letters to grad workers notifying them of the situation. Should any landlord or company refuse, Vice Provost Gertler has declared UVA willing to reimburse affected grad workers for their late fees – however, neither she nor Provost Baucom would commit to a specific timeline by which this would be done.
We’re cautiously optimistic about both the task force and the process for grad students to receive funds for late fees. While we are encouraged by the Provosts’ response to our demands, we know that because confidence in the system has been undermined, the process for reimbursement cannot be burdensome–otherwise, it’s no remedy at all.
UVA’s willingness to concretely address this chronic problem is a direct result of us standing together and demanding better. In the past, grad workers who noticed missing payments have been told they would have to simply wait for the next pay period. In this meeting, Provost Baucom suggested solutions that would require resources, such as trainings for staff or implementation of an entirely new payment system. That is what we must hold them to. Taking this seriously means investing resources. Onwards.