It had already been a particularly tough Monday for El Dorado Elementary School teacher Mindy Morse when she realized she had only been paid $208 for the month of February. She didn’t know what to think, so she went home and cried.
“It made my stomach hurt,” Morse said. “It’s one more thing that’s being put onto educator plates when our plates are already full, overflowing.”
Since the San Francisco Unified School District changed to a new payroll system in January, hundreds of staff like Morse have been underpaid or incorrectly paid. Some haven’t been paid at all. For staff living paycheck-to-paycheck, the payroll snafu resulted in overdraft fees, late rent and a hit to credit scores. Some had to borrow money to make ends meet.
The United Educators of San Francisco said it is planning to file a class-action lawsuit by the end of the month, with more than 200 teachers who haven’t been paid at all already interested.
The district, for its part, has apologized. “This is inexcusable and should not have happened,” SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick said in a statement—chalking up the problems to a “steep learning curve” that came along with replacing the previous system, which had been in place for 17 years. “It is SFUSD’s responsibility to pay its employees accurately and on time. We deeply apologize to every employee who has experienced a delay.”
After pressure from labor groups, the district held an intake session in person on Monday and promised some, like Morse, that they would receive the remaining balance via direct deposit on Friday.
But an apology and a pledge to make teachers’ pay whole by Friday isn’t enough for UESF.
Nathalie Hrizi, a UESF officer on classroom leave, said the idea behind the suit is to hold the district accountable by claiming interest for the delay under California law.
Hrizi was personally impacted by the payment issue. She received a paper check that her bank would not verify due to the unusual number of off-cycle checks from the district. The rejected check made her account dip into the red temporarily.
Beyond the financial hardship caused by the district’s bungled transition, Hrizi also underscored Morse’s point—noting that this was just the latest blow to educators suffering from very low morale.
“It just adds to the crisis-level feeling of educators,” Hrizi said. “This has been one of the hardest years for educators but also parents and students. So to be impacted with your pay in an extremely expensive city really affects the way you feel about your work.”
After navigating online learning, contending with unusual student behavior upon returning in person, dealing with staffing shortages and agonizing over preliminary layoff notices and general uncertainty surrounding major budget cuts, some teachers, Hrizi noted, were thinking about calling it quits—even before the paycheck ordeal.
“It’s very demoralizing,” said Joe Rubin, an SFUSD teacher of 32 years who missed $1,200 from his check. “To put that on top of the fact that teachers are working incredibly hard this year and to feel like they’re not getting compensated, it feels like a slap in the face. There’s no way you cannot feel disrespected from this.”
Morse also said receiving an incomplete paycheck felt “disrespectful.” She and others fault the district for not properly preparing for the change and for introducing a system that requires logging hours—a task not required before that adds to the workload.
The district has a $13.7 million contract with Infosys, the company behind the new system, which is called EMPowerSF. That contract was increased first in July by $1.6 million, then again in September by $2.6 million. Both payments were made in exchange for transition support for the launch date, which was delayed from July to January due to the pandemic, according to an internal memo.
The United Administrators of San Francisco is surveying members to better document issues for the district, but also estimates the affected number of workers to be in the hundreds. Joining UESF’s suit is “on the table,” said president Michael Essien.
Commissioner Matt Alexander, who raised concerns about the Infosys contract with the recently recalled Commissioner Faauuga Moliga, said there would be an analysis of what happened at the next budget committee meeting but that there needed to be action first.
“They said we need to pay this multinational company millions of dollars to prevent the thing that is now happening,” Alexander said. “This is completely unacceptable, and there needs to be some level of accountability around this.”
UESF will hold a protest over paychecks on Monday at 555 Franklin St. at 4 p.m.
Ida Mojadad can be reached at [email protected]