CONCORD - Another labor controversy has erupted at a university in Torino, Italy, operating under credentials issued by New Hampshire and supervised by the state's Higher Education Commission.
The business development coordinator at St. John International University on Thursday confirmed reports in the Italian press that four employees had walked off the job and have held protests in front of the university over nonpayment of wages.
One article claimed eight employees had resigned, but Davide Dabbene said three former employees resigned and one was fired. "I don't know the reason why they resigned," he said in a telephone interview from Torino. "I am only here to represent the employees that are here."
Dabbene said the protesting employees represent a small portion of the 40 employees, including professors, at the university, which he said currently has 100 students enrolled. "They are not representing the current employees," he said.
The four employees are being represented by the Federation of Knowledge Workers, which issued an Oct. 9 statement on their behalf, claiming they had gone nine months without pay, and were not an isolated case.
"These workers have gone since January without pay, and have decided to resign for good cause, to open a case against the administration for the right to payment for work performed," the statement read.
The dispute with workers in Italy comes as three former SJIU employees who live in New England continue their wage claims against the school. Former marketing director Patricia Parpajola, former faculty member Tom Johnson, and former academic dean Mary Beth Benbenek, all have wage claims pending in Italian courts and have asked that the university accounts be frozen.
The former president of Franklin Pierce University left that job to becomes SJIU's first president upon its founding in 2011, left a year later amid a pay dispute, ended up in court battles with the university that were only recently resolved.
Dabbene said the recent employee protest comes as the university makes progress in both academic and financial areas. On the same day of the protest, the university hosted a conference on the European Space Program at which the coordinator was awarded an honorary degree, and announced that an undisclosed group of investors from India had "formalized an economical intervention to sustain the initiatives of the American university."
Dabbene declined to elaborate on the identity of the investors or the amount of their investment.
The N.H. Higher Education Commission voted in May to accept the update from SJIU on finances and enrollment, and extended approval through June 30, 2014, with progress reports due on Nov. 1, 2013 and March 1, 2014.
The university claims to have its main office in Concord, although the campus is located in Torino. Its board of directors includes several well-known New Hampshire residents, including Concord attorney Jim Bianco; state Senator Lou D'Allessandro; the Rev. Jonathan DeFelice, past president of St. Anselm College; Lisa DeStefano, of AIA-DeStefano Architects, Portsmouth; state Sen. Sylvia Larsen; and Dr. David Xiao-Yan Li, senior vice president at Elliot Health Systems.