[WSN] Mayoral candidates send letter to Sexton, administration

Mayoral candidates sent a letter on Friday, Sept. 6 to NYU President John Sexton urging him and the administration to recognize graduate, research and teaching assistants’ rights to unionize.

Christine Quinn, Bill de Blasio, Bill Thompson, John Liu and Sal Albanese support the graduate workers ability to collectively bargain in their letter. Collective bargaining rights would allow them to negotiate the benefits they receive from NYU, including health care. Last academic year, there were cuts in health care for some of these employees.

“We value the contributions the university makes to our city as an institution of higher education and as an economic engine,” the letter said. “However, we find the years of delaying the rights of all graduate employees to choose union representation unacceptable.”

NYU GAs, RAs and TAs are represented by the Graduate Student Organizing Committee – United Auto Workers Local 2110 Union. The union’s most recent protest occurred last May when the union delivered an open letter to Sexton. The union did not receive a response to this letter.

In response to the letter, NYU spokesman John Beckman said this issue is more complex than what the letter suggests. He said last year the administration made an offer to the union, but it was rejected.

Graduate student and former TA Brady Fletcher said the offer would exclude RAs, which is why the union did not agree.

“We are not going to take the opportunity to have rights for some, while excluding others from having the same rights to collectively bargain,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher added that there are other research institutions where RAs are unionized, and the union believes it only makes universities more competitive.

But Beckman said the administration is not convinced that RAs should receive collective bargaining.

“The research conducted by RAs is typically funded by external grants, contributes to their own thesis work and directly advances their degrees,” Beckman said. “The idea that a student’s progress towards his or her degree might be governed by a collective bargaining relationship is troubling to us.”

Beckman said the administration wants to wait for the official position of the National Labor Relations Board on which employees qualify for collective bargaining and that their position has changed three times in the last 12 years.

Fletcher said NYU does not need to wait for the NLRB’s position, as it does not have jurisdiction over the university.

“It’s a really basic right to be able to negotiate with your employer over basic things like health care,” Fletcher said.

Beckman said the administration plans to respond.

Originally published in the Washington Square News on September 9, 2013. Original article can be found here. By Nicole Brown, Emily Bell, and Michael Domanic.