Graduate student assistants teaching at New York University have gone on strike, demanding that university president John Sexton agree to a union contract that would provide better wages and benefits.
The strike, initiated in early November, was created by an 85 percent majority of NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee.
About 1,000 of NYU’s graduate assistants have been pushing for the university to recognize their representatives, Local 2110 of the United Automobile Workers, since August. It was then when the university said it would no longer recognize the union because of an overturned decision by the National Labor Relations Board that forced the union’s contract with the university to expire this August.
“What do we want? Contracts! When do we want them? Now!” over 300 students shouted last Wednesday in New York’s Washington Square Park.
President Sexton said in a statement that students would have to return to work on Monday or risk losing $19,000 in stipends. Students would have to agree to the university’s original pay offer and will be able to retain their free tuition and health care.
“NYU strongly supports the rights of all members of its community to express their views and opinions, and we appreciated the opportunity to hear the views of today’s group of some 250 students,” said NYU spokesmen John Beckman about Wednesday’s rally.
University administrations across the nation are asking NYU’s administration not to buckle because of the precedent it would set for other colleges.
NYU was one of the few universities up until the NLRB’s decision was overturned that had union representation for its graduate students, but now the university feels it has no legal obligation to recognize the union.
“No private university in the country now has unionized graduate assistants, and neither do 80 percent of public research universities,” said President Sexton in a letter to NYU students.
The university has no intentions to negotiate with the GAs and has stressed that GA’s are in no way employees of the university.
“Graduate assistants are students of this university, not ‘workers’,” said NYU Provost David McLaughlin in a letter to the students. “They have been selected, admitted, and offered financial aid packages for their intellectual promise as students seeking higher degrees; they are not recruited for their potential as employees.”
According to NYU, approximately 165 classes out of 2700 at the university are taught by graduate students.
President Sexton has encouraged the directors of undergraduate studies to use departmental access to Blackboard sites, which have online course assignments and materials for classes, to oversee courses taught by the GAs.
“The use of Blackboard remains an important means toward continuity of education for our undergraduate students during the strike,” said McLaughlin in a letter.
NYU’s President Sexton and Provost McLaughlin continue to disapprove of the union movement.
“At some point we must turn from trying to mend an imperfect past toward creating a better future,” said McLaughlin.