Ruling may help GW unionization

Members of GW’s Graduate Teaching Assistant Adjunct Alliance say they are continuing to work with the United Auto Workers to form a union for GW’s graduate assistants and adjunct faculty, following the National Labor Relations Board Nov. 1 ruling that allowed graduate teaching assistants at New York University to unionize.

If there was a union, the University could no longer keep their budget a secret, said Kevin Mahoney, a part-time English professor and graduate student. We are a highly educated workforce and we don’t have a collective, democratic say in our conditions.

Members of the GTAAA said they work in substandard conditions at the University, since GW considers them students. They receive a $2,500 stipend for each course they teach and do not receive health care or other faculty benefits.

In the NYU case, the NLRB ruled that graduate teaching assistants are workers and should be allowed to organize and bargain together as members of a union.

The decision is the first of its kind in the United States and makes private universities subject to collective bargaining with its graduate assistants.

The ruling does not include public universities, where workers’ rights are mandated under state laws and, in some states, workers are provided with a right to work clause, which allows them to maintain their jobs without joining a union.

We continue to review the potential implications of the NRLB decision and note that the process involving NYU is not yet complete, said Gretchen King, director of GW Media Relations. Nevertheless we share the concerns expressed by officials at NYU and other institutions. We believe allowing graduate students to unionize will have a significant impact on the traditional scholarly relationship between professors and their students.

Don Lehman, vice president of Academic Affairs, echoed King’s sentiments.

(A union) will have a fairly significant impact . because there will be a third party involved, he said. Things are not yet complete there so we must just wait and see what transpires.

University administrators previously said they do not agree with a decision by the GTAAA to bring in an outside organization for unionization.

In a letter to the GW community April 10, Lehman wrote that a union for graduate assistants and adjunct faculty would hurt the valued professor-assistant relationship.

If there were to be a union these relationships could become contentious and politically charged relationships that are the antithesis of what is needed as faculty and students strive for excellence in teaching and scholarship, Lehman wrote.

But graduate assistants and part-time faculty said the unionization effort is necessary in order to ensure fair treatment by the University.

The salaries of part-time instructors and (teaching assistants) do not reflect the cost of living in this area, Mahoney said.

In addition to teaching an introductory English class three days a week, Mahoney said he is trying to finish writing his dissertation.

Mahoney said the stipend of $2,500 a course for GW’s graduate teaching assistants is considerably less than the pay other universities offer. Georgetown University pays graduate teaching assistants about $4,400 a course, he said.

We are definitely at the bottom of the pay scale, he said.

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