Volume 75, Number 35 | January 18 - 24, 200

Classes resume and grad students resume picketing

By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

On Jan. 17, as New York University students returned to classes, the university’s striking graduate teaching assistants returned to the picket line.

The Graduate Student Organizing Committee took a break from picketing over the holidays while N.Y.U. was in winter intersession.

The strike, which began on Nov. 9 of last year, was in reaction to N.Y.U.’s refusal to renew the union contract. GSOC was unwilling to work without the security of a contract, despite N.Y.U.’s promises to treat the teaching assistants fairly.

Following a 2000 ruling by the National Labor Relation Board that graduate teaching assistants were workers and accordingly entitled to union representation, GSOC made history by becoming the first group of graduate students to unionize at a private university. The union then negotiated a contract with a 40 percent increase in stipends, full health coverage and paid sick leave.

“[GSOC] is unique because N.Y.U. is a private institution,” said GSOC Chairperson Michael Palm. However, he noted, the distinction between private and public is an arbitrary one with regard to union organization drawn by the President Bush-appointed N.L.R.B.

In 2004, the N.L.R.B. reversed its earlier decision and N.Y.U., no longer legally obligated to negotiate with the union, offered the graduate teaching assistants a nonunion contract. The contract did not differ substantially from the original, except, said the union, it did not provide security or health benefits equal to the first union contract.

GSOC voted to strike in order to safeguard their right to unionize, as well as their health benefits.

The number of teaching assistants who have returned to work remains in dispute.

“A large number of graduate assistants have resumed teaching,” said N.Y.U. spokesperson Josh Taylor. “Seventy-five percent came back as of last term, and more are expected.”

GSOC does not have a solid figure on the strikers, said Palm, but they estimate it as several hundred.

“I have no idea where N.Y.U. got that number from, and they have never offered an explanation,” said Palm.

N.Y.U.’s Taylor said the majority of undergraduates have not been affected by the strike.

However, GSOC claims that many classes have felt the strike’s effects and that the school has contingency plans for the spring.

On Dec. 5, N.Y.U. threatened GSOC with withholding the graduate assistants’ stipends for the spring if the strike continues, but has yet to follow through.

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