Members of NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee flexed their political muscle last Thursday when their rally for unionization was headlined by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and supported by over 250 other state elected officials.
The GSOC—NYU’s currently unrecognized labor union for Teaching and Research Assistants—has campaigned for collective bargaining rights since 2004, when the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students employed by universities qualified as students, and were therefore ineligible for union rights. In 2002, two years before the NLRB’s decision, the GSOC voted to become a part of the United Auto Workers Local 2110 union, and achieved a contract with NYU. The contract recognized NYU’s TAs and RAs as employees, raised their stipends by 40 percent, offered health benefits, and granted overtime pay if their hours exceeded 20 per week.
But after the NLRB ruling, NYU allowed the contract to expire, leaving RAs and TAs without collective bargaining rights in 2005. Now the GSOC hopes to reinstate its contract with support from city and state officials.
When she addressed the GSOC members gathered in front of Bobst on Thursday, Council Speaker Quinn was quick to address the University’s previous acceptance of the union.
“When you look at the university at that time when it had a fair contract, nothing bad happened. It didn’t set the university back. NYU flourished during those years,” Quinn said.
Following Quinn’s remarks, members of the GSOC entered Bobst to deliver open letters to John Sexton, as signed by over 250 state officials, and a petition signed by over 1,000 GSOC members. According to a GSOC representative, the documents—which were comprised of six individual letters—highlighted recent cuts to graduate students’ already-reduced health care plan.
But government support or no, the graduate student union faces an uphill battle with NYU administration. Just this winter, President John Sexton opened a speech with a joke about one NYU trustee’s suggestion to “admit that [grad students are] workers, and fire them!” And while Sexton added that he didn’t want to be associated with “those remarks,” Sexton’s flippant attitude toward unionization may not bode well for the GSOC.
We have reached out to the GSOC for further comment, and will update as the story develops.
Originally published on May 14, 2013 by the NYU Local, original article can be found here.