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Rutgers P4P makes gains in advocacy through rally in New York City, meeting with department officials

The Rutgers chapter of Payments for Placements (P4P) recently attended a rally in New York with other chapters and met with department leaders as part of their lobbying to obtain compensation for unpaid internships social work students must complete as part of their education.  – Photo by Courtesy of Lauren Korczakowski

Earlier this month, the Rutgers chapter of Payment for Placements (P4P) co-hosted a Day of Action by chapters at various New York universities.

P4P is a collaborative effort led by social work students nationwide to advocate for a prevalent issue affecting their community: compensation for more than 1,000 hours of labor each student in the program must complete to qualify for their licensing exam, according to a press release. The value of this work by the time of a student's graduation totals more than one billion dollars, spread over approximately 123 million hours of labor.

Lauren Korczakowski, a Rutgers School of Social Work alum, said she played a limited role in planning the event, which had several moving parts.

One element of the event she noted in particular was the attendance of Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, which she said energized the P4P members.

Another facet of the event she discussed was creating a paper mache boulder to represent the magnitude of the debt social work students often face.

The boulder was subsequently destroyed as a symbol of how the drive and mobilization of students could bring an end to these issues, according to the press release. Providing voice to these shared experiences was particularly memorable to Claire Thompson, a Rutgers School of Social Work graduate student and P4P chapter member who attended the rally.

"Hearing all the personal stories of people was a powerful part of being there," Thompson said. "It's making it clear that this is a nationwide issue, because I'm sure if we went beyond the New York City coalition, it would still be the same struggles that are shared."

Korczakowski echoed Thompson's sentiments and shared one story told at the event that stood out to her. She said one of the student speakers had explained how they had been injured outside of the workplace while part of a work placement and did not receive any accommodation from their employer.

Ultimately, the student lost the progress they had made during the semester, a reality faced by other students as well, Korczakowski said. She explained that while the lack of accommodation could have been an Americans with Disabilities Act violation, social work students do not have the same labor protections.

Though, the lack of accommodations does violate the National Association of Social Workers' Code of Ethics, Thompson added.

P4P chapters across the Northeast have been experiencing certain gains, Korczakowski said. The P4P chapter at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College was able to lobby for a reduction in the hours they work to the national average.

Back at Rutgers, members of the University's P4P chapter recently presented the results of a survey in which alumni and current Rutgers School of Social Work students shared their experiences participating in these placements, Korczakowski said.

The chapter hopes to leverage this information into obtaining compensation for Rutgers social work students' work in these roles, whether through wages or stipends. As of now, department leaders have indicated an interest in providing the requested compensation, said Korczakowski.

"Professors and administration took our survey, other data and student testimonies seriously, and want to work on getting students paid," Korczakowski said.

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