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Union Institute employee files lawsuit over unpaid wages as the semester comes to a close

Employees at Union Institute & University say the school has missed another payday.

For months, staff at the university have continued to work despite not knowing when their next paycheck will come. Union Institute President Karen Schuster Webb informed staff of the school's desperate financial situation in March after it failed to deliver paychecks to all its workers.

Since then, the school has tried obtaining additional funds and loans to compensate for these missed payments, but it's not happening fast enough.

Employees told WVXU they received paychecks for the month of March last week, but were still waiting to be paid for April. Friday was supposed to be another payday, but workers say paychecks never arrived. Now President Webb is telling them to wait until the end of the month for their next payment, according to emails shared with WVXU.

RELATED: Union Institute & University hasn't paid its employees in nearly a month

The missed payments haven't come without consequence. Some university staff members say they're planning to leave the school for different jobs as the spring semester comes to a close. To make matters worse, a Union employee opened a lawsuit against the university last week over the missed paychecks.

The lawsuit claims the school violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by having employees continue to work despite knowing they were unable to pay them. Now the employee is seeking to recover the money owed to them and their fellow co-workers.

Matt Okiishi, an associate attorney with the Finney Law Firm filed the lawsuit and says he was surprised to see the university openly stating it didn't have any money and still asking its employees to stay on board.

"To give out these promises and rely on the goodwill of your employees is not the way that we expect our society to function," Okiishi said. "Missing three pay periods, you're testing loyalty very strongly at that point."

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Union Institute employees say they now anticipate their next paycheck to come sometime next week, but weeks of broken promises have muted their expectations.

On Tuesday, Webb sent an email to students still insisting the university will not be closing. Still, some staff members don't see a bright future for the school and have made plans to leave Union Institute now that the semester has ended.

When asked if they would be returning to the school for the upcoming summer and fall semesters, one university employee told WVXU on Friday, "Hell no!"

Union Institute's chief of staff has not responded to multiple requests for comment in the past few weeks.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.