Graduate Students Vote for Workers’ Compensation

February 11, 2014 3:05 am0 comments


The Graduate Professional Student Assembly passed a resolution Monday calling upon the University to provide monetary and health compensation to graduate students who are injured while working on the Cornell campus.

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The Graduate Professional Student Assembly voted to ask the University for workers’ compensation for graduate students Monday. (Simon Lee / Sun Staff Photographer)

Though graduate students at universities in the State University of New York system receive compensation for their injuries, Cornell does not provide mandatory workers’ compensation — insurance that provides monetary benefits and medical care to workers who become injured or ill as a result of their job — for graduate students, according to Paul Berry grad, who sponsored the resolution along with Nicole Baran grad, counsel to the GPSA, and Evan Cortens grad, former GPSA president.

While graduate students receive stipends for their research, the University does not officially classify them as employees, according to Berry.

“We’ve been trying to answer the pretty simple question of what happens when a graduate student gets injured on the job,” Berry said. “We want to know what would happen to your stipend. Under what conditions would it be paid? Under what conditions would it not be paid?”

Several members of the GPSA echoed Berry’s sentiments, adding that the difference between being a graduate student and a University employee is ambiguous.

GPSA member Franziska Doerflinger grad said despite doing much of the work of University employees, graduate students are only officially recognized as students.

“The University makes sure that we are in no circumstances ever classified as employees. We’re strictly considered students,” Doerflinger said. “Even so, we always feel like we walk the sides of the line between student and employee.”

Baran added that legal precedents also play an important role in classifying graduate students as employees.

“A lot of the issues related to the definition of graduate students as students versus employees are found in … labor law,” Baran said.

“Graduate students are exposed to dangerous instruments, hazardous chemicals [and] other workplace risks every day.” — Paul Berry grad

Berry said after months of questioning and research, he was unable to obtain a clear answer regarding the University’s current policy towards compensating injured graduate students.

“There are discrepancies between New York State law and direct statements made by the University’s Risk Management & Insurance Office in a meeting with the Advocacy Committee on Dec. 5,” he said in an email Monday.

The resolution consequently calls upon the University to clarify and standardize its compensation policy, so students can make “informed decisions” about their individual risk.

“Graduate students are exposed to dangerous instruments, hazardous chemicals [and] other workplace risks every day,” Berry said.

Due to the lack of a mandatory system for reporting graduate student injuries, both the frequency and severity of the injuries remains unknown, according to the resolution.

“In the summer of 2013, there was one very serious graduate student injury that occurred on campus,” Berry said.

According to Berry, Cornell has both a legal and moral obligation to provide compensation to graduate students injured while working on campus.

“[The University needs] a dependable method of providing benefits to a graduate student if they are temporarily or permanently disabled due to work-related injury,” he said.