Response to President Hamilton and Provost Fleming’s email
Dear GSOC members and NYU community,
We thought it necessary to respond to and provide context for some of the claims made in today’s email from President Hamilton and Provost Fleming. Please share this response with your students and colleagues.
Rationale for Striking: NYU made almost no movement
While President Hamilton and Provost Fleming described the strike as “unwarranted” and “untimely”, the fact remains that we have been negotiating with NYU for 10 months, with next to no movement from the University on the issues that matter most to the members of our union. Our decision to strike is not one we take lightly; indeed, it is the result of a strike authorization vote in which grad workers across NYU voted by 96.4% to authorize a strike. It is no surprise that our employers, who individually receive annual salaries of $2 million (Hamilton) and $1 million (Fleming), have called our strike “unreasonable” and “misguided,” and we denounce their transparent attempt to distort the narrative and misrepresent the union’s demands. They know as well as we do that a significant number of graduate workers here at NYU, living and working in the most expensive city in the US, do not make a living wage. This is why we as graduate workers are united in our demand for a fair and reasonable contract—a contract that recognizes our fundamental value to NYU. And it is why we will begin our strike tomorrow.
Mischaracterizations of the Current State of Negotiations
President Hamilton and Provost Fleming also misrepresented several points of our negotiations with the university:
- President Hamilton and Provost Fleming point to Harvard’s $17/hour base wage (as another unionized university) as an example of NYU’s comparatively “generous” pay rates for grad workers. But since the cost of living is 20% higher in New York City than in Boston, this is a spurious comparison. And since NYU bars graduate workers from working more than 20 hours/week, hourly employees can only make up to $1,600/month—far from enough in a city where the median rent is above $1,800. We refute the university’s claim that our demands are arbitrary. They are based on research as well as conversations and surveys with our membership.
- The university claims that a majority of Ph.D. students receive “very generous support,” including tuition remission and “some $30,000 in stipend funding.” Not only do many Ph.D. students receive less than $30,000 per year, but this statement ignores the hundreds of unfunded master’s students who pay NYU’s notoriously high tuition and fees. The union has been fighting for equal support for all graduate workers, including tuition remission for master’s workers. However, NYU continues to devalue the work of master’s students by refusing to consider these proposals, even at one point proposing differential pay rates for Ph.D. and master’s workers.
- President Hamilton and Provost Fleming also misrepresent NYU’s own proposals. They claim that the university has offered to increase hourly wages by 20%. But they omit that this 20% figure is the total increase over six years of the proposed contract. Since August, NYU has offered hourly workers only a $1 raise, with even smaller increases in subsequent years, leaving us at less than $25 by 2025. We know NYU can afford to pay us much more.
- The email inconsistently presents our suggested increase to the base wage for hourly workers. They first claim we proposed an 80% increase, then later say our proposed increase is 60%. We are currently proposing a 60% increase, from $20 to $32/hour, a $14 drop from our initial demands. This increase is based on the living wage in New York City, and despite Hamilton and Fleming’s repeated suggestions to the contrary, our demand for a living wage is not “unreasonable.” Despite this, the university has not changed its own offer on this base rate since last August, even after the union decreased our demand to $32/hour, down 30% from our original proposal.
- GSOC recognizes that the university has moved on a few of our proposals, including the creation of a new healthcare support fund, an increase in our childcare subsidy fund, and two additional weeks of parental leave. However, these shifts occurred only after months of negotiations, testimonials, and pressure from GSOC members. Further, the university has not responded to several of our demands, such as protections for international and immigrant workers.
Fighting for Everyone
Our decision to strike is not one we made lightly, but after almost a year of negotiating that included numerous concessions on the part of the union and careful discussions of all of our workers’ needs. The number of counter proposals we have made versus those NYU has made is clearly reflected here. The union asked the university to meet on a weekly basis on several occasions before we announced the strike deadline. After our March 18th bargaining session, we made several counters, altered our proposals, and set new frameworks for healthcare costs and compensation. NYU asked for time to review, but returned after 3 weeks with only one counter. After negotiating with NYU for 10 hours on Thursday, April 22, the GSOC bargaining committee—who are not paid for this work—offered to continue bargaining through the weekend. Instead, the university insisted on continuing negotiations on Monday, April 26, despite knowing that we scheduled our strike to begin on that day.
We also recognize that our working conditions create the learning conditions for NYU undergraduate students. Many of us work directly with undergraduate students and know firsthand how difficult the past year has been for them. As such, we are determined to fight to guarantee them the best support and learning experience at NYU by creating a better educational environment for everyone.
Finally, we wish to address the claim that our dual status as students and workers gives NYU a “special connection” to us and that our desire to be fairly compensated might create “bitterness.” These are common anti-union talking points that universities use to avoid acknowledging that the labor of graduate workers helps universities run. NYU should know: it resisted recognizing GSOC for more than a decade, only to settle on the terms of our previous contract after the threat of a strike. The fact remains that we are unionized employees with a right to bargain collectively over our conditions of employment—and a right to strike. We are no different in this regard from NYU’s unionized clerical workers, adjunct faculty, and contract faculty.
We hope that this message has provided context for the inaccuracies in President Hamilton and Provost Fleming’s email, and that readers understand that our strike is rooted in reasonable demands and great awareness of the impact of our work on undergraduate students and the NYU community at large. In fact, we think that the stronger our contract is, the better our students’ experiences will be and the better we can set precedent for how NYU treats all its employees. Those who wish to support us further can help by signing our supporter petition, coming to our virtual and in-person picket lines, or donating to our mutual aid fund.
Your colleagues at GSOC