Volume 74, Number 13 | July 28 - August 03 , 2004


N.Y.U. should honor grad students’ union

The recent reversal of the National Labor Relations Board on the status of graduate teaching assistants comes as unsettling news to graduate students at New York University, who for the last few years have been enjoying the benefits of unionization. In the fall of 2000, the N.L.R.B. ruled that graduate students who serve as assistant teachers, known as G.A.’s, are workers under the law and are thus entitled to organize. In April 2001, N.Y.U. recognized the G.A.’s union and began the process of bargaining with them on their first contract.

While N.Y.U. will continue to honor the G.A.’s contract, it’s unclear if this ruling — on Brown University graduate students who were attempting to organize — will affect whether N.Y.U. will bargain with its G.A. union on a new contract when the current one expires next year.

The N.L.R.B. ruling four years ago, which overturned 25 years of precedent, was a unanimous vote by a panel of three of the N.L.R.B.’s five members — two Democrats and one Republican. The latest ruling was a vote of 3-2, with all three Republicans, including the N.L.R.B.’s chairperson, voting in the majority and the two Democrats voting in dissent.

Clearly, this is partisan politics at its worst. What is more disappointing, however, is the reaction of N.Y.U.’s spokesperson, John Beckman, when he stated, “We believe the N.L.R.B. decided wrongly in 2000 and we are gratified by the decision.”

However, when bargaining in 2001, N.Y.U. said its main concerns were academic freedom, free speech and the hiring of faculty. The union gave the university all it requested on this front and things have gone smoothly.

N.Y.U. signed the contract in good faith with the G.A.’s. For the university now to turn around and say that these graduate students — who do so much of the thankless work for faculty members and teach so many of the actual class hours — should no longer be considered workers or receive health benefits and adequate pay is hypocritical. N.Y.U. now has an opportunity to set a national example to protect its G.A.’s and should renew the current contract when it comes up next year.

The report on terror

 The report from the 9/11 Commission, a 10-member bipartisan panel, is a serious and often quite frightening document that requires the immediate attention of federal, state and local officials. Many, if not most of the report’s recommendations should be implemented as quickly as possible.
The members of the commission — particularly its leaders, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton — deserve enormous praise for coming up with the best strategies to prevent another Sept. 11-type attack — or worse. Most of them are politicians and they were working in an election year, yet remarkably, they were able to come up with a unanimous report.

The nonpartisan spirit of the commission must now govern all leaders as they proceed from here in trying to implement the report’s recommendations. Nothing less than our lives is at stake.

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