Thursday, September 01, 2005

Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions: Over 80 Arrested In Protest Action Against New York University

(Courtesy of Melissa Purdue and Steven Thomas)

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 University’s 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 /


The Continental Op said...

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.

This is actually an interesting issue. The NLRB's decision in the Brown University case (reversing the Board's earlier decision in the NYU case) ruled that graduate assistants are not "employees" under federal labor law. In that case, it may indeed be unlawful for NYU to bargain collectively with its graduate assistants, because collective bargaining by non-employees can be a violation of federal antitrust laws. However, at the present time, it isn't clear whether the graduate assistants would be subject to the antitrust laws either. It would turn on whether their work affects interstate commerce. You've given me an interesting idea for a law review article!

Michael Benton said...

Continetal Op,

Isn't the entire University of California system set with unions for the grad students (one through similar battles) and University of Illinois' grad students recently won the right to negotiate as unions with the university--why wouldn't they be affected by this decision (curious about this).

As a former grad-student laborer that notion that they are "not" workers or employees is ridiculous. They sign contracts in which they agree to complete certain amount of labor? Is that not an employee? They do the exact same work as professors when they teach?

Yes, please enlighten me on this as you research your article--sounds like a great topic! I could try to put you in contact with some of the I of U union people if you need it.

The Continental Op said...

State Universities are a whole different ball game. They're governed by state, not federal, law. In a great many states (including, off the top of my head, Michigan, Wisconsin, California, Florida, Indiana, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania -- and there are others that I can't remember off hand) the labor board and/or courts have ruled -- sensibly enough -- that of course graduate assistants are employees. I'm proud to say that I represented the union at Temple University in the case that established this principle in Pennsylvania.

The majority position in the NLRB's Brown decision -- which applies only to private institutions -- is nonsensical -- pure politics, without any basis in law or logic.

Michael Benton said...

Thanks, that clears up a lot of confusion! I always assumed NYU was a public institution?

The Continental Op said...

Nope, NYU is private. I wish it were public -- my law school tuition would have been much cheaper!