Today from 1pm to 2pm about 60 graduate employees held a “work-in” inside Bobst Sydney aka hard eight download. You may have seen us with our blue t-shirts and signs hung around our neck. We tried to remain silent as we were grading exams and papers. Our action drew attention to the labor that we do everyday that keeps this university running.
We are members of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC), the graduate employee union. We lead sections, work in labs, grade most exams and papers, teach languages, do research, and perform other academic labor on campus. Few classes at NYU could operate without our labor. NYU wouldn’t be able to offer classes with more than 40 students in them if we weren’t able to assist the professors with grading and leading sections. Currently we are working without a contract after John Sexton refused to negotiate a second contract with our union in 2005.
Undergraduates have a direct stake in improving graduate conditions. Well-treated TAs ensure that NYU can attract high quality graduate students, which will improve the experience in the classroom, as well as NYU’s prestige. As it is, undergrads suffer when graduate workers are forced to TA courses well out of their specialty. Undergrads pay too much in tuition to be taught Chinese history by someone who studies Latin America. Finally, TAs responsible for excessive grading loads cannot be attentive and conscientious teachers. Running a university like a Wal-Mart, as Sexton seems to want, is not a recipe for academic success.
Despite the importance of our labor, NYU claims we are not workers. For a while, John Sexton found a kindred soul in George W Bush. In 2004 Bush, whose hostility to workers was legendary, overturned established labor law and stripped us of our legal protection, allowing Sexton to refuse to negotiate a second contract a year later. Most labor specialists, many legislators, and even human rights organizations like the International Labor Organization were horrified by Sexton and Bush’s actions. In fact last year both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton co-sponsored legislation, which Ted Kennedy wrote, which will re-instate our labor rights, and ensure that TAs like us have the right to form a labor union and negotiate for better conditions. The right to form a union is an essential human right, guaranteed to all under the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
Our argument is simple: we believe that we as graduate students should have the right to decide for ourselves whether we want to form a labor union, just as TAs at top schools like Berkeley, Rutgers, and CUNY have. Like all workers, TAs are better off when we can present a united front to our employer and bargain as one unit rather than be divided. Just as John Sexton has a contract, so we want one that will ensure that we have fair pay, decent health care, and child-care.
For more details, go to www.TArights.com.
Original publication can be found here, by Peter Wirzbicki.