In advance of our potential strike action next week and in light of major mischaracterizations of our positions and bargaining process by NYU administration, we offer this statement to make clear where we stand and why we are prepared to strike.
We are fighting for a fair contract which includes immediate wage increases for the lowest paid workers in our unit, across the board wage increases to keep pace with the cost of living, 100% health care coverage for 100% of our membership, family health care and child care benefits, tuition remission for all Ph.D. student workers, and a shorter contract term to allow us to be more responsive to the needs of our future members and to renegotiate areas where we have had to make significant compromises this time around. If the March 9 mediation session does not result in a contract offer that meets these needs of our membership, we will be on strike March 10–13, with the promise of repeated strike actions until we secure a fair agreement.
Recent administration memos distributed across campus grossly mischaracterize the good faith in which we have negotiated and the many meaningful revisions we have reluctantly made in most bargaining sessions to date in the hopes of securing a contract this semester. The University’s use of percentage increases to compare our negotiations to those of other unions across the city are inapt for several reasons. Perhaps most relevant, the lowest-paid workers in our unit currently make $10 per hour for highly skilled labor, which is not a livable wage, even before considering the lack of tuition remission or health care coverage. Of course our contract would then provide greater relative gains to these workers than other contracts where workers may already be making enough to live on. Second, NYU’s so-called “voluntary” recognition of the union out of their own “generosity” ignores the years of relentless pressure from graduate workers to regain that recognition through legal means after NYU unilaterally withdrew it in 2005 after the union’s first contract expired. If NYU were half as generous as they claim, they wouldn’t have spent these past years paying MA student workers $10 per hour—students whose labor is worth many times that amount on the engineering market, but many of whom are legally prohibited from working off-campus as international students. This exploitation has brought negative media coverage to NYU from multiple media outlets.
The claim that we have not made compromises during the negotiation process, either before or since entering mediation, is patently false. At several points, in an effort to move negotiations forward and bargain in good faith, we have modified our demands. For some examples, we dropped our initial demand for a return to 2011/12-level health care coverage after NYU unilaterally raised costs, copays, hospital maximums, and dependent coverage rates (a move highlighting the precarity of our situation which again demonstrates our need for a contract). As recently as our last bargaining session, we dropped our demand for partial tuition remission of Masters students, despite the financial hardships they continue to endure, because NYU has declared such an idea financially untenable (even though they offered 100% MA tuition remission to workers between 2001 and 2005). We have also recently dropped the demand for subsidized professional dental care, accepting NYU’s latest offer merely to cover StuDent fees.
In February, for the first time since May 2014, NYU finally came to the table with some compromises of their own. We see NYU’s most recent offer as progress, but there are key places where we continue to differ. (You can read a complete side by side comparison of the union’s and university’s respective positions here.) For example, NYU proposes to cover 70% of health care premiums for hundreds of workers, leaving those students with 30% of the bill. But 30% of a lot of money is still a lot of money—more than many of us can afford. Further, the administration’s continued refusal to offer child care benefits and affordable family health care disregards the needs of workers with families and structurally disadvantages women.
Our bargaining committee has spent the last year and a half speaking with members about what they need from a contract in order to do the best possible job for the professors, undergraduates, and staff with whom we work day-in and day-out. We proudly stand together as student workers and demand that the value of our labor be acknowledged and fairly rewarded by the University. The total cost for NYU to meet our remaining demands for healthcare is roughly half of one NYU vice president’s salary. Compare this to the $399 million in profit that NYU made in 2014 and it’s clear that the university can afford to treat its workers fairly, and—contrary to their claims—to do so without laying a finger on undergraduate tuition costs. In fact, we are emboldened by the support we have received from undergraduates in our struggle. And we continue to wonder what exactly about our demands NYU believes is “unreasonable.”
Ultimately, we are asking the administration to do right by the graduate employees who do so much of the work that makes this university run. In doing so, we are asking the administration to make a better NYU.