Volume 74, Number 51 | April 27 - May 03 , 2005

Villager photo by Jennifer Weisbord

Graduate students rallied near Bobst Library on Washington Sq. S. for union rights at New York University last Thursday.

Graduate students’ fight comes together at N.Y.U. rally

By Nancy Reardon

Graduate student assistant teachers at New York University demonstrated their support of unionized graduate employees around the city last week, an effort that culminated in a large rally on Thursday.

Concerned over the fate of their first-ever union, N.Y.U.’s graduate assistants, or G.A.’s, are urging the administration to start negotiations now to renew their contract. They say the university has been dragging its feet over initiating any meetings and want talks to start now — four months before their contract expires.

Graduate teaching students pay no tuition and receive health insurance and stipends. They usually work as teaching assistants in at least one course each semester, which requires attending lectures, teaching and grading papers.

The rally in front of N.Y.U.’s Bobst Library brought together grad students from N.Y.U. and Columbia University, adjunct professors, activists and union members to demonstrate their united support for organized graduate teaching assistants.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson, a strong supporter of organized labor, called on N.Y.U. to do the right thing. “New York University cannot go backwards on workers’ rights,” he said.

N.Y.U. was the first private university to recognize a grad student union in 2001, and remains the only private university to have made that move. Most public universities allow their graduate teaching assistants to unionize.

Thursday’s rally did little to accelerate the administration’s response. The university released a statement acknowledging that it was considering whether to renew the contract, but said it would not announce its recommendation until May. A final decision will be made in June.

“We remain committed to providing competitive stipends, quality healthcare coverage and fair processes for resolving disputes that may arise between graduate students and faculty members or their schools,” the statement said.

But grad students fighting to save their contract say that commitment is not enough; they want the right to collective bargaining and the protection of a unionized workforce. The G.A.’s are getting anxious and fear N.Y.U. will try to roll back their union.

“This is a real concern for us, because the administration has yet to sit down at the table with us,” said Marda Rosenstein, president of the Local 2110 United Auto Workers Union, under which the N.Y.U. Graduate Student Employees United is organized. “They have announced a sham process by which they will decide whether they will recognize the union by consulting with a small number of administrators.”

N.Y.U. has formed two university committees to discuss whether to renew the contract, but Rosenstein said union leaders should be consulted in the process.

In July 2004, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate teaching assistants are not employees under the National Labor Relations Act. The N.L.R.B. wrote, “We return to the Board’s pre-N.Y.U. precedent that graduate student assistants are not statutory employees….We reconsider N.Y.U. and conclude that the 25-year precedent was correct, and that N.Y.U. was wrongly decided and should be overruled.”

But grad students across New York strongly disagree with the N.L.R.B. Thursday’s rally was held in conjunction with a weeklong strike by fellow grad students Uptown at Columbia University who are working to form their own unions. Hundreds of grad students formed picket lines at the university’s 116th St. entrances, and Rosenstein said that many N.Y.U. students joined their ranks in a show of support.

Subhir Mahadazan, a graduate student at N.Y.U., delivered a keynote speech to the Columbia protesters early last week.

“We know that success at Columbia will mean success at N.Y.U.,” said Rosenstein.

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