(Courtesy of Melissa Purdue and Steven Thomas)
OVER 80 ARRESTED IN PROTEST ACTION AGAINST NYU'S REFUSAL TO RECOGNIZE THE GRADUATE EMPLOYEES' UNION
Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn, and New York State Senator Tom Duane were arrested today in a peaceful action of civil disobedience alongside graduate employees and other union members protesting New York Universitys refusal to negotiate a second contract with its grad employee union, GSOC/UAW 2110. Actor/activist Morgan Fairchild lended her support and spoke at the rally.
In a major show of support from the New York labor movement, over 1,000 demonstrators rallied outside NYU's administrative offices. Protesters chanted and applauded as over 80 graduate employees and supporters moved to block the doors of the NYU office building and were arrested by police without incident.
"I'm proud to be a UAW member today," said Miabi Chatterji, a teaching assistant in the American Studies Department who participated in today's action. "It's outrageous that the University has just slammed the door in our face and refused to bargain, but it's really inspiring to see so many people come out here to join us in support of workplace democracy."
NYU and GSOC/UAW Local 2110 have had a successful four-year collective bargaining relationship, following a 2000 election in which a strong majority of NYU TAs and RAs voted in favor of union representation. In the four years since then, workers have repeatedly demonstrated majority support for their union.
The University first announced its intention to walk away from bargaining in June of 2005, citing a recent NLRB decision, although the case in question does nothing to prevent NYU from respecting the democratically-expressed wishes of TAs, RAs and other employees.
"Undergraduate students know how hard we work. Our advisors and supervisors know how hard we work. We have recitations to organize, exams to grade, hours to clock in the lab working on faculty research, all of which demonstrates the nature of graduate student labor," said Christopher Fraga, a graduate assistant in the Anthropology department. "We work just as other campus employees do. NYU negotiates with their unions. Why should we be treated differently?"
The effort by NYU TAs and RAs to maintain their collective bargaining rights has drawn broad support throughout the University community. A Town Hall Meeting in July, for example, called by the NYU administration, was attended by over 500 people. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance supported the right of TAs and RAs to bargain a new contract, and were critical of the University's refusal to negotiate.
In response, NYU administrators tried to save face on August 5th with a last-minute take-it-or-leave it demand that TAs and RAs accept a pro-management contract within 48 hours, no discussion, no meeting with the union bargaining committee. Union representatives asked for a meeting so that NYU administrators could answer questions about their offer. NYU refused, leading to today's demonstration in support of collective bargaining rights.
"Today's dramatic action is part of a nationwide movement," said UAW Secretary Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn, who heads the union's Technical, Office and Professional (TOP) Department. "A vote was taken. At both public and private universities, teaching assistants and research assistants are organizing to win democracy in the workplace. Our union has always supported workers who are standing up for power and dignity in the workplace, and we're proud to stand with NYU workers today."
"Teaching and graduate assistants deserve the same rights as all other workers, and that starts with the right to have a union and a contract," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "By denying that right, NYU has become an embarrassment to this entire union city."
Mary Nolan, a professor in the History Department, put today's action in historical perspective: "Peaceful civil disobedience has played a key part in the struggle for civil and human rights for disenfranchised groups. Today's graduate employees shoulder much more of the workload at universities than in the past. The responsible way for NYU to recognize graduate employees' contribution is to respect their wishes to be represented by their union."
Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions
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