media coverage

Village Voice: NYU Grads Say They Will Strike If Health Care and Wage Demands Are Not Met

By Lara Zarum — March 9, 2015


The union that represents New York University’s nearly 1,000 teaching and research assistants is threatening to strike on March 10 after months of fruitless bargaining negotiations with university officials.
The two sides are scheduled to meet tonight in a last-ditch effort to prevent the so-called “limited strike,” which union members say would begin on March 10 and end on March 13. The Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) is asking for 100 percent healthcare coverage for its members, including family benefits; annual wage increases of 3.5 percent, in keeping with the rate of inflation; and tuition remission for Ph.D. candidates.

GSOC members are hoping the threat of a strike will push NYU to accept its conditions. On December 12, 2014, members voted almost unanimously in favor of a strike, to which the university responded with a few concessions, though it has not yet come close to meeting the union’s demands. “Our successful strike vote and setting of the strike deadline has put more pressure on NYU,” said Natasha Raheja, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Anthropology and a member of GSOC’s bargaining committee. “It pushed them to offer us some greater material gains,” such as increasing healthcare coverage from 50 to 70 percent.

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Wall Street Journal: NYU Graduate Students Threaten to Strike

By Mike Vilensky – March 8, 2015


A strike threat hovers over labor talks at New York University this week, more than a year after the school, in a watershed decision, recognized its graduate-student employees as part of a union.

Graduate students say the school’s commitment to collective bargaining is ringing hollow, as negotiations that began in 2014 still haven’t led to a contract. To some of them, they are unionized in name only.

“The onus is on the administration to avert a labor disruption,” said Natasha Raheja, a teacher and graduate student in the anthropology department, and one of eight students on the union’s bargaining committee. “We hope NYU doesn’t push us.”

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NYU Grad Workers Demand Raise — Brooklyn News Service

By Samairah Khan – December 5, 2014.

The Union for Graduate Employees at New York University protested in Washington Square Park on Tuesday, demanding a “fair contract” for graduate assistants who, they contended, deserved to share in the big profits raked in by the institution.

“It’s time, for NYU to put its money where its mouth is,” said Shelly Ronen, a student of sociology and member of the bargaining committee. “NYU says it’s committed to excellence, we can’t make excellence if we can’t pay our rent, and we can’t make excellence if we don’t have health care.”

The union became certified on Oct. 31, 2000 as NYU’s graduate employees union, and has the legal right to negotiate wages and other employment conditions.

Members are fighting for higher wage, tuition remission, childcare assistance and affordable healthcare for the graduate workers and their families. Protestors were holding signs that stated, “NYU can afford a contract,” and “Every grad worker deserves a raise.”

Organizers said that that some graduate assistants are not paid at all and other paid as little as $10 an hour. They were demanding a minimum hourly wage of $20 an hour for teaching assistants and a 4 percent increase for all other workers in the first years of their contracts.

“There has been less progress than we would have preferred at the bargaining table,” said NYU spokesman John Beckman. “However, we take it as a hopeful sign that the union has recently embraced our proposal to bring in a mutually-agreeable, impartial mediator. We believe the mediator will be very helpful in narrowing the gap between our positions.”

The union says that NYU had a profit of $115 million in 2011, $53 million in 2012 and $399 million in 2013. The protestors busted open a purple piñata that was shaped as a pig with big yellow writing “399 MILLION,” representing the money NYU has to pay for a fair contract for graduate workers. They called the piñata a 990, the tax forms that non-profits file, and NYU filed, according to the bargaining committee.

“We’ve been fighting NYU since February, we’re here today to show NYU to show President Sexton, that we will not back down, until we get the goods,” said Natasha Raheja, an anthropology student, also a member of the bargaining committee.

The protest ended with the crowd singing “which side are you on, John?” referring to John Sexton, NYU president.

GSOC protests over contracts, benefits — Washington Square News
By Larson Binzer – December 3, 2014. Original article can be found here.


Members of NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee protested against NYU and their ongoing contract negotiations with the university by holding a rally in Washington Square Park on Dec. 2. The group smashed a pig-shaped piñata filled with glitter, candy, dental floss, fake money and GSOC buttons.

The union has held multiple protests throughout the past month while negociating with the university.
A press release from the union highlighted the fact that NYU has had $50, $112 and $399 million in profits from students in 2011, 2012 and 2013 respectively, and stated that NYU can afford to increase the wages offered to working graduate students.

The rally began with groups gathering and holding a moment of silence for Michael Brown, after which students and organizers shared their grievances with the crowd.

Liz Koslov, a Steinhardt doctoral student, said she believes the working conditions for graduate students are extremely unfair, especially considering the high cost of health care.

“Our working conditions are very precarious,” Koslov said. “I think it’s important to put pressure on the university so that they actually do something about it and realize people do really care.”

GSAS student Sara Duvisac explained that there is a particular issue in the lack of a contract regarding international students at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering.

“I think a factor that plays into the issue is that because a lot of the students are international students, they have many fewer options because they can’t get work outside of campus,” Duvisac said. “It’s easier to kind of force them into lower-paying jobs.”

Daniel Aldana Cohen, an event organizer and GSAS student, explained the list of demands the graduate students want in a contract.

“The demands are decent pay and benefits and working conditions to all grad workers, including support for their children and dependents,” Aldana Cohen said.

After the grievances and demands were presented, the group marched through the park and rallied outside the doors of Bobst Library. At the end of the rally, union representatives said they would return and announced they are holding another demonstration on Dec. 12.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said NYU’s existing proposals would increase pay to bargaining unit members and extend benefits and pay raises to graduate students.

“NYU has been and continues to be committed to bargaining in good faith, and we remain focused on achieving a good contract that honors the contributions of our graduate students,” Beckman said in an email.

Cohen said the group hopes the university will respond with a better contract offer soon.

“We know that putting significant pressure on the university works,” Cohen said. “We’re confident that the university doesn’t want to subject its employees and its students here to a prolonged labor dispute, so we’re very hopeful that NYU will respond to our shows of strength and solidarity with a better offer.”

NYU Grad Students Say They’re Ready to Strike — In These Times
By Ari Paul – December 2, 2014. Original article can be found here.


If New York University administrators don’t start answering teaching assistant demands soon, the nation’s second most expensive college could experience a work stoppage as early as next year.

During a rally in Washington Square Park December 2, members of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC, affiliated with United Auto Workers Local 2110) announced they were confident that its membership will authorize the union to strike by December 11.

Bargaining committee member Ella Wind, a Middle Eastern Studies student, said that NYU management had not substantively responded to union demands in the past three contract negotiation sessions over the past year. GSOC wants the university to implement an uniform health care coverage plan to teaching assistants—graduate students who teach undergraduate students—rather than differing plans depending on one’s specific school within NYU, Wind explained.

The union is also demanding tuition reimbursement and an improvement for teaching assistant dental benefits. Currently, graduate student instructors can pay into a program, cleverly called the Stu-dent Plan, where they receive dental care from NYU dental students, the union said. Instead, the union wants coverage under the faculty and administrators’ dental plan.

GSCO also wants an improvement to the NYU child care plan. GSOC bargaining committee member Shelly Ronen, a sociology student, said students can apply for a $200 per semester child care subsidy from the university—an “insult” compared to other university plans, such as the University of Michigan, which provides direct child care for graduate student employees. GSOC is demanding a childcare support benefit written into their contract for each of an employee’s children.

“People feel like things are dragging,” Wind said during the rally.

She added that the union had met with the university and a mediator the previous night.

“Because of our escalation, they’ve been forced to respond,” Wind said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

In 2002 GSOC successfully negotiated a contract with a health plan and increased stipends for members, but two years later the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled in a case involving Brown University that private universities had no obligation to recognize graduate student unions. Last December, NYU broke with that precedent under pressure from the union and other activists and formally recognized the union after a 620 to 10 union authorization vote from graduate student workers.

The GSOC rally happened as graduate student instructors at the University of Oregon, which as a public institution is not bound to the NLRB precedent, announced a strike to commence during finals week. Among their demands are a 5.5. percent wage increase for minimum salaries over the next two years and two weeks of paid medical and parent leave per year, according to the Oregonian.

A GSOC strike next year would involved numerous challenges for student unionists, including deflecting the accusation that graduate students would be punishing undergraduate students for a labor conflict they aren’t involved in. But members say they are confident that students will understand the union’s message that investment in teaching assistant compensation translates into a better education for undergraduate students.

“We’ve been engaging more and more and training members how to talk to undergrads,” Wind said.

Five of the eight members of the GSOC bargaining committee are members of a dissident caucus elected by the membership earlier this fall called the NYU Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, which believed that the previous union leadership had failed to mobilize rank-and-file support. “More and more graduate students are coming to our events,” Wind said. “Students are interested in this.”

The union last struck in 2005. The next mediation session between the union and NYU administrators is December 18.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said in a statement,

In the spirit of that mutual agreement, NYU has been and continues to be committed to bargaining in good faith, and we remain focused on achieving a good contract that honors the contributions of our graduate students. NYU’s existing proposals would increase pay for everyone in the bargaining unit, and would extend benefits, such as subsidies for health care premiums, for the first time to those graduate students who hadn’t previously received them. … There has been less progress than we would have preferred at the bargaining table; however, we take it as a hopeful sign that the union has recently embraced our proposal to bring in a mutually-agreeable, impartial mediator—we believe the mediator will be very helpful in narrowing the gap between our positions.

NYU Exploits Interns as Cheap Labor for Startups — Bloomberg Business Week
By Natalie Kitroeff – November 25, 2014. Original article can be found here.

Vandita Sharma writes code for a company that turns old radiators into high-tech heating devices. Gaurav Chhabra develops software that lets computers identify objects on camera. Paul Dariye is designing an app for a startup that helps nonprofits raise money.

The three engineers are paid $11 an hour or less by New York University’s Polytechnic School of Engineering, which has placed them in internships at small companies. Their work is at the center of a battle between NYU’s administration and the graduate student union, which is demanding higher wages for interns at the university’s startup incubators.

Engineers who do jobs comparable to those of Polytechnic’s interns make roughly $43 per hour, according to Glassdoor, a website that tracks salaries. “It’s not just sitting at the reception of some company,” says Sharma, a computer engineering master’s degree student at NYU. “It is very wrong.”

As part of its contract negotiations with the university, the union is pushing for Sharma and her peers at Polytechnic’s Brooklyn campus to be paid as much as students at the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, who can earn more than $30 an hour teaching.

“We won’t be stepping away from the table or agreeing to anything that does not fully account for the terrible working conditions at Poly,” says Lily Defriend, a graduate student in anthropology and a member of the union’s bargaining committee. After the union and the school reached a standstill earlier this month, the two parties agreed to enter mediation.

Polytechnic places 30 graduate students in part-time internships every semester, often doing highly skilled software engineering or Web developing. The startups they work for pay the university $450 per desk to use space at one of its three startup incubators. More than 90 percent of the students in the program come from countries outside the U.S., and most are on student visas that limit their options for work off campus.

“You have to settle for the amount that we’re getting paid because there are not a lot of other options,” says Chhabra, who moved to New York from New Delhi, India, last year and expects to graduate with about $25,000 in student loans.

NYU says the arrangement is a unique chance for students to get their coding hands dirty and their faces in front of upstart executives with jobs to hand out. Zeroing in on their wages is “a very shortsighted assessment,” says Steven Kuyan, associate director of the university’s internship program.

“The money is to a certain degree almost arbitrary,” says Kuyan. “The value exists in the opportunities and the education and the skills that you learn.”

Interns are assigned a faculty mentor who answers questions that arise on the job. Since the program started in 2012, five Polytechnic grads have landed full-time jobs at the companies where they interned.

Sharma speaks reverently about her internship, which she says gets her out of the “very safe environment” of the classroom. But the 23-year-old still chafes at the low pay, which she stretches, along with the money her mother sends from India each month, to get by.

“People might say that, you know, you can work harder and get better jobs,” says Sharma. “For me, I don’t have any option other than this.” Sharma says the experience has had great value. So would a meaningful paycheck.

GSOC, NYU to start mediation — Washington Square News
By John Ambrosio – November 17, 2014. Original article can be found here.

After failing to come to a prior agreement, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee has officially agreed to enter third-party mediation to push its contract negotiations with NYU forward. This news came after both sides failed to make substantial progress in their negotiations during two bargaining sessions on Oct. 22 and Nov. 11.
GSOC, which is pushing for several changes to graduate student workers’ contracts including higher wages and health care benefits, made the decision to enter mediation on Wednesday, Nov. 12, during another bargaining committee meeting.

“Due to the recalcitrance of NYU at the bargaining table, we have decided to accept the university’s procedural proposal that we enter non-binding mediation with a third party mediator,” a Nov. 12 statement from GSOC read.

“Though we will be in mediation, to ensure a fair contract for all grad workers, we need to continue to place collective pressure on the university to fulfill our demands.”

NYU spokesman John Beckman said the university was glad to hear the news and looks forward to making progress.
“We heard from the [union] this past week that they have agreed to make use of an impartial, non-binding mediator,” Beckman said in an email. “We’re pleased with that development; previously, they had been unwilling to say ‘yes’ to using a mediator, which puzzled us.”

GSOC spokesperson Lily Defriend said the union and administration made few advances during the bargaining meetings because the university refused to negotiate.

“They made a counterproposal that we thought was unreasonable, we made modifications to our proposal and expected them to do the same,” Defriend said. “They then explained that they wouldn’t meet all our proposals, which we interpreted as meaning they expected us to drop some of our demands.”

She added the union was upset that the university has not submitted a counterproposal during the most recent bargaining sessions.

“It’s unacceptable that NYU has refused to make us a counterproposal since last May,” Defriend said. “There is growing frustration among the membership who have been waiting for a good contract for months now.”
Beckman declined to comment on specifics of the negotiation process, but said both sides must be willing to be flexible for negotiation to take place.

“Nobody gets everything they want from a negotiation; identifying priority items allows both sides to focus their efforts and make progress,” Beckman said.

Following the decision to move forward with mediation, bargaining committee member Shelly Ronen said the next scheduled negotiation session may not happen on the previously agreed upon date of Dec. 2 now that the mediator is in charge of scheduling.

GSOC also held a demonstration on Friday, Nov. 14, in an effort to continue to put pressure on their negotiating partners.

“The action was a group of GSOC members who went to Bobst to deliver letters to Terry Nolan. They were letters addressed to high school counselors advising them of the ongoing events at NYU and how that might affect undergraduate education,” Ronen said. “We’re escalating our attempt to put pressure on the university.”

Graduate students, NYU still at standstill — Washington Square News
By Alex Bazeley – November 12, 2014. Original article can be found here.


The battle over working conditions for graduate student workers continued on Nov. 11, as the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, the union for graduate employees at NYU, continued its bargaining with the university’s administration. GSOC is negotiating for better wages, health care and working conditions at both the Washington Square campus and the Polytechnic School of Engineering in Brooklyn.

Over 50 GSOC members and supporters, including undergraduate students and faculty members, gathered in support of the movement at the bargaining session. No significant progress was made, however, and the university continues to request that a mediator be brought in for the negotiations. The university is also calling for more of GSOC’s plan to be modified.

Natasha Raheja, a GSAS doctoral student and lead member of the bargaining committee, said GSOC will not fold in the face of the university’s intimidation techniques. She explained that GSOC is adamant with its demands and will not relent until they are met.

“They have consistently told us that we have to drop part of our proposal, but these are all things that graduate students need,” Raheja said. “We’re not going to drop health care, and we’re not going to drop wage increases.”
GSOC and the university have been in bargaining since February, but NYU has not presented proposal changes since May. GSOC made modifications to their demands in September and said it is the administration’s turn to take the next step.

NYU spokesman John Beckman said the university wishes to make progress at the bargaining table and hopes that GSOC will work to meet the university halfway.

“Both sides expressed a desire to make progress on the contract, which NYU very much wants,” Beckman said.

“However, we remain puzzled why the union is unwilling to say ‘yes’ to having a non-binding, impartial mediator come in and help both sides come together.”

Lily Defriend, a GSAS student and member of the bargaining committee, said she was frustrated by the university’s lack of ability to understand their side and make progress toward an agreement.

“It seemed like last semester the administration was moving at least in the direction that we wanted to go in, even though the proposal last semester was woefully inadequate,” Defriend said. “We feel that nothing we’re doing now is moving them forward.”

Shelly Ronen, a GSAS student and member of the bargaining committee, said she is disappointed that the university has not budged since May. She added that GSOC will continue to escalate its actions and display the broad support of the community to put pressure on NYU and show that the world is watching.

“If necessary, we may have to halt the operations of the university to the extent that we can,” Ronen said. “We will do anything that’s necessary to win a strong contract.”

TAs face challenges over university policy — Washington Square News
By Monica Millay – November 10, 2014. Original article can be found here.

media_20141110_wsnSyeda ShahBano Ijaz, a GSAS student, is working on her doctorate in politics, teaching two recitations of 25 students each and raising her 1-year-old daughter. Ijaz is also involved in the Graduate Student Organization Committee. Ijaz was initially drawn to GSOC because NYU’s child benefits provide a subsidy of only $200 per semester that could not cover basic necessities — let alone child care — for her daughter.

Ijaz said if NYU acknowledged the realities of its graduate parents by providing daycare, more child subsidy for babysitting, maternity leave or an additional year of funding for doctoral students, then both parents and the university would benefit.

“[NYU] could get so much more out of me and out of other graduate parents if they gave such options,” Ijaz said.
In December 2013, 98.4 percent of graduate employees voted to unionize after being without a contract since 2005. GSOC is the first graduate employee union at an American private university to be recognized as a collective bargaining unit and to negotiate a contract.

GSOC and NYU released a joint statement commenting on the contract establishing the union in 2013.

“We are confident this agreement … will improve the graduate student experience, and will sustain and enhance NYU’s academic competitiveness,” the statement read.

Lily Defriend, a GSAS student working to attain her doctorate in anthropology, is one of the eight elected representatives on GSOC’s bargaining committee. The bargaining committee works to develop a contract with NYU and provide better working conditions for graduate student employees, including teaching assistants.

In addition to negotiating improved healthcare and family benefits, there has been a push for NYU to address the disparity between its Washington Square campus graduate employees and those at the Polytechnic School of Engineering, who are paid as low as $10 per hour and must cover their own tuition and health care expenses.

“TAs and graduate workers do a substantial amount of work that builds reputation as an excellent institution to come get your degree, and we deserve compensation that reflects that work,” Defriend said.

Negotiations between GSOC and the university are ongoing.

As students themselves, TAs can often be one of students’ most valuable assets as they navigate difficult courses, particularly large ones where professor contact is limited. CAS sophomore Michael DeLuca attested to this, saying TAs can help students stay on track and not be overwhelmed by large lectures.

“TAs give a more approachable and relatable alternative to professors,” DeLuca said. “They’re younger, they sometimes come from interesting and niche fields, and can offer a perspective different from or at odds with the main professor’s, and that’s always a good thing.”

Though there are financial challenges associated with being a TA, there are also many upsides. Amanda Perry, a graduate student studying for a doctorate in comparative literature, is a TA for a social and cultural analysis class.

Perry makes an effort to teach classes in her field of study, though between school and teaching, she estimates that she reads approximately 800 pages each week.

“Sometimes it can be a pretty happy synthesis where you’re getting paid to learn things you should know anyway, so I actually quite like TA-ing for that reason,” Perry said.

NYU tech-work program pays students only $10/hr — New York Post
By Kate Briquelet – November 9, 2014. Original article can be found here.

It’s high-end tech work for fast-food pay.

NYU Poly is supplying cheap labor for startups — with international students doing computer programming and electrical engineering for a measly $10 an hour, activists charge.
Some foreign pupils claim they’re so poor that they’re forced to choose between medication or food — and even sleep on park benches or in student lounges because their apartments are far away.

“NYU is framing Poly as the Silicon Valley of Brooklyn,” said Nantina Vgontzas, a member of NYU’s grad-student worker union that’s demanding a raise to $15 an hour. “But at the same time, it’s massively exploiting these graduate students.”

Many students can work only at the Downtown Brooklyn campus — while paying up to $17,000 a semester in tuition — due to visa restrictions. NYU Poly runs three business incubators, where tech firms pay a fee and select from a pool of interns, who are paid by the university.

Selva Thangavel, 24, a student from India, worked at an incubator for two semesters, programming computerized solar panels designed to shift throughout the day to face the sun. Because he is a foreign student, he worked 20 hours a week at $10 an hour.

“It’s very difficult to live,” Thangavel said. “You’re constantly borrowing money from people.”
Meanwhile, graduate assistants and teaching assistants are paid just as much to manage labs and fabricate circuit boards for professors’ research.

Gaurav Bajpai, 28, works in a biomolecular science lab for $11 an hour. He said that a professor recently bought him glucose testing strips for his Type 2 diabetes because he didn’t have enough money, and that he has slept at NYU’s Bobst Library or outside NYU Poly because his Queens apartment — the only one he could afford — is too far away.

After paying for rent, his MTA card and medications, he’s left with $32 a month for food and spending.
Aryeh Katz, an electrical-engineering student from Israel, works in a prototyping lab for $10 an hour and builds circuit boards for students and professors.

“It’s a joke — you could be flipping burgers for more money,” Katz said. “It’s an insult considering all the work we do for the campus. We know we’re not getting paid enough for what we do.”
NYU acquired Polytechnic University this year and has been bargaining over a pay contract with student workers since February.

“Our graduate assistants don’t all do the same things, and they aren’t all at the same level of graduate study,” said NYU spokesman John Beckman. “Their unwillingness to acknowledge these differences is why . . . we still have made so little progress.”

NYU Poly – Polytechnic Reporter

NYU Underpays the Graduates — Labor Press
By Marc Bussanich – October 23, 2014. Original article can be found here

New York University recently won a favorable court decision to rebuild its Washington Square campus for $6 billion, but it doesn’t want to pay its graduate employees over at the Polytechnic campus in Brooklyn a living wage.

So the graduate students/employees held a press conference at 1 Centre Street on Wednesday afternoon where they got support from elected officials including Public Advocate Letitia James, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and Councilman Stephen Levin.

According to the graduates, who are only making $10 or $11 an hour, NYU is able to secure more than $20 million annually in grants and contracts thanks to their cutting-edge research. Not to mention that private sector start-ups start up because the graduates do all the research legwork.

In the accompanying video interview, Assemblywoman Glick, who represents the Washington Square neighborhood that NYU wants to drastically upend, said NYU should be paying its graduates at Poly-Tech higher wages.

“I’ve stood with the graduate and research assistants for many years. NYU has been a union buster for a long time; they took a long time to come around to a contract and now these students are working at NYU-Poly in Brooklyn and they’re making a third as much as the graduate students at Washington Square. That’s not right; $10 an hour is outrageous. NYU is an enormously wealthy institution,” said Glick.

She also noted that while NYU can’t pay the students, the president is doing great.

“We are concerned that the students who go there as undergraduates are drowning in doubt while the institution provides low-interest loans to administrators for vacation homes in the Hamptons and a severance package for the president, John Sexton, that’ll be essentially a $800,000- a-year pension. They should be ashamed of themselves.”

Gisselle Cunningham makes about $10 an hour at Poly-Tech teaching engineering to her peers. She didn’t expect to make only $10 an hour in engineering.

“I think it’s the expectation of the university for you to accept $10 an hour,” said Cunningham.

Right after the presser the bargaining committee was expected to meet with NYU to try to reach agreement on a contract. Cunningham said she’s anxious to hear NYU’s proposals.

“It would be nice to hear from them. I hope they get the message to cooperate with the union so that we can get a fair contract.”

Julie Kushner is the director of the United Automobile Workers, Region 9A, the union that organized graduate students at the Washington Square campus for over a decade and is organizing the graduate students at Poly-Tech. She said that NYU has to pay them a living wage.

“It’s really critical that NYU begin to address the low wages at Poly-Tech. The [graduates] are doing high-level work in these laboratories and in the engineering school. We hope to hear from the university that they’re ready to recognize these workers with a living wage. NYU needs to step up to the plate; they have the resources to really transform the lives of these workers,” said Kushner.

Grad Student Workers Rally for Pay Equity at NYU — WNYC (NPR)
By María Villaseñor – October 22, 2014. Original article can be found here.

NYU graduate student employees rally at the Manhattan Municipal Building for better wages and benefits

Graduate students at New York University’s engineering school protested what they called unfair wages for work they do as researchers and assistants. They rallied with their union GSOC-UAW Local 2110, fast-food workers and elected officials to criticize inadequate wages and a lack of benefits.

“These hard-working employees deserve better wages, paid health care and a waiver of tuition costs because they have earned it,” said Public Advocate Letitia James at the rally outside the Manhattan Municipal Building on Wednesday.

James blasted NYU for failing to compensate student workers who contribute to the academic advancements made at its campuses. She said many students get further into debt paying the private university’s tuition, while the school gets wealthier from its undergrads’ and grads’ advancements.

Students at the rally also protested the uneven pay for graduate assistants at NYU’s Manhattan campus and at the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering in Brooklyn. Students at the engineering school said they make less than $12 an hour on average, while graduate students at the Manhattan campus can make close to $32 an hour.

Aryeh Katz, a fourth year electrical engineering student, said his job at NYU Polytechnic’s prototype lab isn’t a low-skilled position.

“We have a lot of equipment that you really need to know what you’re doing in order to use it,” said Katz, who’s paid $10 an hour.

Graduate student workers and NYU have been at impasse since December 2013. Though the students are unionized, they are currently working without a contract. Union director Julie Kushner said the union and the university have been trying to work out a contract.

“So far they have not put a proposal on the table that we can accept,” Kushner said. Part of the union’s demands included a $15 hourly wage and health benefits.

The union and university met hours after the rally to continue working on a contract, but no decisions were made during the meeting.

A spokesman for NYU said in a statement that the school is serious about giving students a fair contract and has “been bargaining in good faith,” but the proposal by the union representing the student workers would cost roughly twice as much as the “substantial” raises and benefits NYU has offered.

Poly, NYU’s Latest Global Venture in Building ‘Innovation’ on the Backs of Low-wage Workers — The Nation
By Lily Defriend and Gisselle Cunningham – October 21, 2014. Original article can be found here.


When The New York Times recently exposed the abusive treatment of construction workers at NYU’s Abu Dhabi campus, people all over the world reacted with disgust to a growing pattern at NYU: employing what the university calls “innovation” on the backs of low-wage, precarious workers. While the NYU Abu Dhabi situation has received well-deserved attention, a lesser known example of worker-exploitation exists right here in New York City, at the NYU-Polytechnic School of Engineering. Touted by university administrators and city officials alike as a hub of economic development, much of this innovation happens through the creative, hard work of hundreds of low-wage graduate student employees engaged in cutting-edge experimental research ranging from solving urban transportation problems to developing improved medical technologies, clean energy technologies and storm resilience.

At Poly, new research and patents have generated $250 million and 900 new jobs for the New York City economy and helped bring around $20 million a year to NYU in research grants and contracts. NYU has compiled a long list of international conference presentations, grants, awards and more achieved in the recent past by Poly researchers, many of them graduate students, but the graduate student workers who help make those projects happen for the university, the city and beyond get paid as little as $10 per hour and are struggling to make ends meet on low wages and non-existent benefits.

Unlike the workers at NYU Abu Dhabi, however, graduate employees won the right to collective bargaining through the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW (GSOC/UAW) and have been engaged in negotiations with NYU for a first contract since February. Unfortunately, the administration has so far failed to put an offer on the table considered fair by student organizers and more than 1,000 NYU and Poly GSOC/UAW members have signed a letter demanding that NYU raise graduate employee wages and greatly improve access to health benefits.

The fact that NYU makes graduate student workers at Poly pay for healthcare and tuition—over $18,000 per semester—is particularly egregious because at NYU’s Washington Square campus the majority of graduate students don’t have to pay any fees when they work as teachers and researchers alongside their studies. If NYU is really so proud of what we do as graduate workers, it should stop treating those of us at Poly like second-class members of our own university.

It gets worse. Many student workers at Poly are international students, primarily from India and China, who travel across the world to pursue a Master’s degree and who on occasion must resort to working under the table for restaurants and gas stations to make ends meet because their visas make it legally challenging for them to work off-campus. International students are often referred to Poly by “educational consultants” who help them apply to the school in exchange for a large fee, which renders them highly vulnerable to the fear that if they complain about anything, they risk having their financial aid packages revoked.

After the Abu Dhabi scandal broke, NYU issued a poorly written apology to the workers. At Poly, workers have the opportunity to win something much better, a legally binding contract with fair wages and benefits that would enable Poly to actually become the global center for innovation that NYU claims it to be, and that we all want Poly to be in reality.