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NYU Workers and COVID-19 Response

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To: Andrew Hamilton, NYU President

Trevor Morrison, Dean of NYU School of Law

Owen Moore, Associate Vice President, NYU Campus Services

As the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) becomes a high priority around the country and right here in New York City, New York University must consider appropriate actions in light of public health considerations and the heightened needs of all members of the NYU community, including all NYU-affiliated workers, during this stressful and precarious time.

As the university shifts to virtual teaching and encourages remote work, the NYU administration must act to ensure that these changes in university operations do not put severe economic strains on individuals. It also must ensure that all employees (direct, contracted, and sub-contracted) and students at this institution have the necessary support for them to be able to take the required evidence-based actions: social distancing and self-isolation for anyone who becomes ill or has had contact with individuals with COVID-19-like symptoms. For workers at NYU and many other workplaces around the US, following responsible public health practices can be easier said than done.

In response to the public health risk posed by COVID-19, NYU has made a number of moves to limit in-person operations and prevent the spread of the virus. One important step has been transitioning non-essential salaried employees to remote work. However, workers performing essential functions, including many hourly workers, continue to report to work. Meanwhile, other workers, such as some subcontracted workers, have not been allowed to work. Some cafeteria workers, for example, have been forced to use their limited sick days despite being told that they could not come to work, and some have already had to file for Medicaid and what will ultimately be limited unemployment benefits to cover their basic needs. While NYU has stated that they will continue to pay student workers during their time out of work, we want to make sure that all workers, including those who work for subcontractors of the university, continue to get paid during this time of crisis.

While we appreciate the steps the university has taken to protect the health and safety of its students, we want to ensure that similar precautions will be extended to the entire campus community, including support staff and hourly workers. NYU campus workers rely on their income from the school and its contracted vendors to pay for rent, utilities, food, healthcare, transportation, child care, family care, pet care, and so much more. When people can’t pay for something as simple as rent, even if the city has a temporary moratorium on evictions in place, they will eventually be faced with debt, homelessness, or collections. Without continuous income to cover their continuing needs, some NYU subcontractor employees may need to seek out predatory loans or take other short-term measures with dire long-term consequences.

To adequately support workers across campus, the administration must:

  1. Ensure that hourly workers do not face loss of pay because of building closures or suspension of certain university operations. Any hourly workers whose duties must be reduced should be compensated for the hours they would have worked if the disruptions had not occurred;
  2. Guarantee the full salaries of all salaried and stipended workers, regardless of course cancellations, lab closures, or other extenuating circumstances;
  3. Provide unlimited paid sick time, with full health benefits, during this emergency so that workers can take care of their own illness or that of a family or household member, self-isolate to avoid potentially spreading the virus, or self-isolate to protect themselves and loved ones who are particularly vulnerable to the virus. In addition, provide paid time off, even for employees who can work remotely, for child care given the closures of schools and child care centers;
  4. Immediately waive any prescription drug regulations in NYU-sponsored insurance plans so that individuals can fill their prescription drugs before leaving campus and ensure a supply of needed medications that is adequate in the event that they must self-isolate.These are steps other insurers are already taking. The administration must also commit to promptly reimbursing individuals who paid out of pocket for such a supply in the interim;
  5. Guarantee that policies will be nondiscriminatory so that no individuals or groups in our community are unfairly targeted (e.g. racial profiling) and so that any policies do not perpetuate the harmful discrimination that often comes with public health emergencies;
  6. Commit to fully covering the costs of coronavirus testing, treatment, and vaccination through the NYU Student Health Insurance Plan and other NYU-sponsored insurance plans as soon as these measures are available. NYU must also ensure that all employees are fully aware of where to refer individuals to seek such care, even if away from campus, and how that care will be fully covered, for those with insurance through NYU or through other, more affordable, providers;
  7. Ensure that appropriate sick time, family/medical leave, and health benefits are granted in contracts with all campus unions and subcontractor companies so that no worker has to choose between their financial well-being and the safety of our community.
  8. Heed the concerns of all impacted sections of the NYU population, including contracted and subcontracted employees, student workers, undergraduate and graduate students generally, faculty including adjunct and contract faculty, and populations served by clinics and other NYU programs. All of these groups include people with particular vulnerabilities and concerns that may evolve as this crisis progresses. The actions listed in this petition are crucial steps toward protecting the NYU community, especially vulnerable workers; they must be accompanied by any critical actions being called for by other community members. To that end, we urge that you consider and act on petitions for action by other representative groups at NYU.

We, members of the NYU community and other concerned people, request that NYU, like Harvard(1), continue to ensure that all workers at NYU, whether they are directly hired by NYU or through NYU’s subcontractors, are fully paid during the coronavirus-related closures. In the case of janitorial workers, we believe this is a fairly straightforward request. For cafeteria workers, we understand that the University may have to subsidize the money lost because students are not purchasing food. However, there are also significant savings incurred by the campus shutdown, including the cost of catering events and other savings. Given the University’s tremendous resources, we think this is a small price to pay to protect vulnerable workers.

While students and workers across campus adapt to rapidly changing working conditions, it is the responsibility of the university to minimize financial uncertainty for these individuals and to ensure that everyone can follow appropriate public health measures. COVID-19 has highlighted many gaps in global preparedness to fight epidemics and underscored the necessity of fair health care and leave policies for all workers. As a school that prides itself on leading the way in research and education, NYU has an opportunity and responsibility to set a standard for policies that support workers in precarious times. We ask the administration to take these commonsense steps to protect the public’s health and the well-being of all members of the NYU community.


Law Students for Economic Justice (LSEJ)

N.Y.U. Review of Law and Social Change

(1) A number of the nation’s leading companies have made the same pledge:

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