[NYTimes] N.Y.U. Graduate Assistants to Join Auto Workers’ Union

Graduate teaching and research assistants at New York University have voted overwhelmingly to unionize, the American Arbitration Association announced this week after conducting the vote.

The graduate assistants voted 620 to 10 to affiliate with the United Automobile Workers, a move that will make their group the only graduate assistants’ union recognized by a private university in the United States. Contract negotiations are expected to begin within weeks between the university and the new U.A.W. affiliate, which the union says will include 1,247 graduate assistants at New York University and the university’s Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn.

“This is something we’ve been working for for eight years,” said Matt Canfield, a fifth-year doctoral student in anthropology. He said the graduate assistants’ negotiators would push the university to improve health coverage after a large jump in their premiums last year.

Mr. Canfield predicted that the improved conditions resulting from a union contract would make the university’s graduate programs more attractive to students.

In 2000, after a favorable decision by the National Labor Relations Board, a majority of the university’s graduate assistants voted to join the U.A.W. Two years later, they became the first group of graduate assistants to negotiate a union contract with a private university. That agreement increased stipends by nearly 40 percent and improved health coverage.

But in 2005, New York University stopped recognizing the graduate assistants’ union when its four-year contract expired. The university took that step after the labor relations board reversed a previous decision and ruled in a case involving Brown University that graduate teaching and research assistants should be considered students and not workers and thus did not have the right to unionize.

Two weeks ago, after years of protests by graduate assistants, the university and the U.A.W. announced that the school had agreed to recognize and bargain with the union if a majority of graduate assistants voted in favor of joining the union.

At the time, the school and the union issued a joint statement, saying the agreement would “improve the graduate student experience” and “sustain and enhance N.Y.U.’s academic competitiveness.”

Julie Kushner, a U.A.W. director for New England and eastern New York, said the vote was so one-sided because the university, unlike many employers, remained neutral and did not campaign against unionization.

She said she hoped the vote would encourage graduate assistants at other universities, including Brown, to revive efforts to unionize. “What’s really important is if other university administrations see this as a positive model,” Ms. Kushner said.

The original article published on December 12, 2013 by Steven Greenhouse, can be found here.