Latest Solidarity Issue

Leading mayoral candidates urge NYU President Sexton to respect union rights for RAs and TA

09/06/13

Letter adds to growing public scrutiny of controversial NYU administratio

NEW YORK — Top mayoral candidates have sent a letter today urging President John Sexton to respect the majority choice of graduate, research and teaching assistants (GAs, RAs and TAs) for union representation at New York University (NYU) and Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly).

Signed by Christine Quinn, Bill De Blasio, William Thompson, John Liu and Sal Albanese, the letter says: “We urge the university to engage now in a fair process for graduate, research, and teaching assistants to choose UAW representation, including a public commitment by the university to remain neutral on their decision on unionization and to proceed immediately with good-faith bargaining upon certification that a majority have chosen UAW representation.”

When the law required NYU to respect the right to collective bargaining, a majority of GAs, RAs and TAs chose representation by the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/United Auto Workers (GSOC/UAW) and bargained improvements to pay, benefits and rights in a 2002 contract that the university and the union both hailed as a landmark agreement. In 2005, however, the NYU administration took advantage of weakened law to deny this right and refused to bargain a second contract.

Despite NYU using every possible tactic to deny union rights since then, a majority of RAs and TAs have consistently supported representation by GSOC/UAW, including two public demonstrations of majority support in the 2012-2013 academic year alone. After the announcement that the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn would be merging with NYU, a majority of its graduate employees formed Scientists and Engineers Together UAW (SET/UAW) as their union.

“We value the contributions the university makes to our city as an institution of higher education and as an economic engine” the mayoral candidates add. “However, we find the years of delaying the rights of all graduate employees to choose union representation unacceptable and we encourage the university to do the right thing.”

“Our desire to engage in collective bargaining with NYU will not go away,” said Peiyang Chen, a doctoral candidate in chemistry who has worked as a TA and RA. “Last year’s unilateral cuts to our health benefits make clearer than ever that the only way we have a fair say in the conditions under which we carry out quality teaching and research is through collective bargaining.”

“The resolve of these workers after this many years is remarkable and inspiring,” said Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, which includes New York City. “We are glad to see that such a distinguished group of community leaders recognizes the injustice being imposed on this dedicated workforce by the NYU administration.”

Sexton has come under increasing public scrutiny in recent months, led by faculty opposing his NYU 2031 expansion plan and voting “no confidence” in his leadership. The growing outcry led the NYU Board of Trustees to announce recently that Sexton would not continue after his appointment ends in 2016 and that they were committed to being more responsive to campus constituencies.

Amid growing pressure from GAs, RAs and TAs last year, NYU told a delegation led by Quinn it would await action by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) before deciding how to proceed on the issue of unionization.

“Waiting for the NLRB is not necessary,” says the candidates’ letter. “Moreover, continuing to delay graduate employees’ rights undermines the values of the university and will generate increasing rancor in the campus and surrounding community.”

The UAW represents more than 45,000 academic workers across the United States, including GAs, RAs and TAs at the University of Massachusetts, University of Washington, University of California and California State University.

NYU worker delegation asks NLRB to decide quickly

02/16/12

Two years ‘too long to wait’ to form union

The chant summed it up: “Two years is too long to wait.” 

That was the message a busload of New York University (NYU) graduate student workers and supporters took to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Washington on Feb. 3.

The group of teaching, research and graduate assistants, members of Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW (GSOC/UAW) Local 2110, traveled 250 miles to deliver a letter to the NLRB requesting a decision is made on their nearly two-year-old petition for an election.

The group traveled 250 miles to deliver a letter to the NLRB requesting a decision is made on their nearly two-year-old
petition for a union election.

The workers teach undergraduates, conduct valuable research and perform other functions for their employer, NYU.

They used the chant to help explain their situation during a news conference following the delivery of their letter to the labor board.

“These academic workers are willing to get on a bus and deliver their message in person. That is what democracy looks like,” said UAW President Bob King. “They represent an important part of our union membership and a vital movement infused with energy and determination. They deserve to have their fundamental rights restored.”

In May 2010, GSOC/UAW filed a petition for union representation. Several months later, the NYU graduate workers won a major victory when the NLRB ordered a new hearing on whether they have the same rights as other workers do on their jobs – the right to vote for a union and have collective bargaining rights.

Last June, acting NLRB Regional Director Elbert Tellem accepted the key claim presented by the teaching and research assistants that they are university employees. However, he was constrained from ordering an election because of a 2004 NLRB Brown University ruling that graduate workers are students without the same rights as other workers.

Now, the nearly 1,800 teaching and research assistants want the NLRB to decide soon so they can vote during the spring semester.

“Graduate student workers are a part of a growing movement and have a long history of having union rights at public universities across the country,” said UAW Region 9A Director Julie Kushner.

Julie Kushner
Kushner: Time to put politics aside and let these workers have their right to a union.

“After almost two years, a decision should be put on the fast track so that these workers can exercise their democratic right to form their union. It is time to put politics aside and allow these workers to move forward quickly.”

“We have worked hard, been accountable to workplace procedures and rules, paid taxes on our earnings and like other workers, supported our families and our communities,” said Neil Myler, a Linguistics Department teaching assistant.

The workers teach undergraduates, conduct valuable research and perform other functions for their employer, NYU.

Having established the right to have a union, in a landmark NLRB decision in 2000 involving graduate employees at NYU, these same workers were stripped of their collective bargaining  rights by the NLRB under the Bush administration in a case deciding the union petition for a similar group of workers at Brown.

In 2004, in a narrow, 3-2 partisan ruling, Republican appointees to the NLRB broke with established precedent and overruled the 2000 NLRB NYU case. The decision resulted in the destruction of impounded ballots that were never counted after democratic elections among Brown’s teaching and research assistants and those at other private universities, including Columbia, Tufts and the University of Pennsylvania. The NYU administration refused to recognize the previously NLRB-certified UAW graduate employee union after the Brown decision, with which it had successfully negotiated a contract, and to bargain a successor agreement to the one which expired in 2005.

The UAW represents more than 45,000 workers in higher education, including teaching assistants, research assistants, academic administrators, full-time and adjunct faculty, postdoctoral researchers, and clerical, technical and professional employees.

Sandra Davis

 

 

Scientists and engineers at NYU-Poly file for union representation

05/05/11

Lab safety a key issue

NEW YORK -- A majority of teaching, research and graduate assistants at Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) filed a petition for union representation today at the Brooklyn office of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  Lab safety, workers say, is a key issue at NYU-Poly’s Brooklyn campus.

“NYU-Poly is a great teaching and research institution. We can make it even better when we have a voice on the job and a say in our working conditions,” said Manoj Ganesh, who works as a research assistant at NYU-Poly while completing his PhD in Chemical and Biological Sciences. 

The Polytechnic Institute, the nation’s second-oldest private engineering school, became part of NYU in 2008. Some 600 master’s degree and PhD students, from a range of scientific and technical disciplines, are employed by the school as teachers, researchers and graduate assistants.

“It’s time for NYU to get the message: In America, majority rules,” said John Freudenthal, a research assistant in the Chemistry Department at NYU’s Manhattan campus and a member of GSOC/UAW Local 2110.  “At NYU, a majority of us have said, over and over again:  ‘We want a union.’  Now, the scientists and engineers at NYU-Poly are saying the same thing.”

The petition filed today would create a distinct bargaining unit for NYU-Poly scientists and engineers.  In addition to concerns about wages, health insurance and job security, scientific and technical workers at NYU-Poly want a stronger say in establishing safe practices in laboratory settings, where they frequently work with hazardous chemicals.

“A lot of times, we’re alone in our labs, supervising experiments and technical procedures,” said Ganesh.  “But only faculty members can call for assistance to clean up chemicals spills or deal with other safety issues.  It doesn’t make sense; that’s why we need to sit down and talk.”

At NYU, which is now NYU-Poly’s parent institution, members of UAW Local 2110 negotiated the first-ever collective bargaining agreement for private sector grad student assistants in 2002.  Contract talks followed a unanimous 2000 NLRB decision which stated:

"Consistent with Supreme Court and Board precedent, we find that the graduate assistants are employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) [of the National Labor Relations Act]."

In 2004, a narrow majority of Republican appointees to the NLRB overturned precedent and overruled the 2000 decision.  NYU has refused to negotiate ever since -- but NYU TAs and RAs have repeatedly demonstrated majority support for their union, most recently verified in April 2010 by the American Arbitration Association.

In May 2010, NYU TAs and RAs filed a new petition for union recognition; the NLRB found “compelling reasons for reconsideration,” and re-opened the case.  As a result, the New York regional director of the NLRB held a full hearing on the bargaining rights of graduate assistants, which concluded in April.

“The facts are clear.  The law is clear,” said Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, which includes the New England states, Puerto Rico, and eastern New York, including New York City.  “Whether in Manhattan or Brooklyn, NYU shouldn't be allowed to hire people, give them work assignments, compensate them, and then claim they are not workers with full rights under the law.”

“Instead of wasting more time and money, NYU should negotiate now with members of GSOC/UAW Local 2110 -- and with scientists and engineers at NYU-Poly.”

The UAW, one of the nation’s most diverse labor unions, represents more than 45,000 workers in higher education, including teaching assistants, research assistants, academic administrators, full-time and adjunct faculty, postdoctoral researchers, and clerical, technical and professional employees.

 

NYU teaching and research assistants applaud labor board ruling for hearing on workplace rights

10/28/10

NEW YORK -- Teaching and research assistants at New York University, members of GSOC/UAW Local 2110, applauded a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) which requires a hearing on their workplace rights, including the right to collective bargaining over terms and conditions of employment. 

"NYU employees who teach thousands of undergraduates and who perform thousands of hours of research worth millions of dollars have been standing up for our workplace rights for more than a decade," said GSOC/UAW Local 2110 member John Freudenthal, a research assistant in the NYU Chemistry Department. "We do important work at our university; we get paid for it, and we are employees with full rights under the law -- it's as simple as that." 

An NLRB decision to restore workplace rights for NYU TAs and RAs would result in a union representation election. Members of the bargaining unit, which now includes some 1,800 workers, have repeatedly demonstrated majority support for their union, most recently verified in April, 2010 by the American Arbitration Association.

In 2002, GSOC/UAW Local 2110 members at NYU negotiated the first-ever labor contract for teaching and research assistants at a private university. Union members and the NYU administration entered into collective bargaining based on a unanimous 2000 NLRB decision which stated: 

"Consistent with Supreme Court and Board precedent, we find that the graduate assistants are employees within the meaning of Section 2(3) [of the National Labor Relations Act]." 

In 2004, in a narrow, 3-2 partisan ruling, Republican appointees to the NLRB broke with established precedent and overruled the 2000 NLRB case.  The decision resulted in the destruction of impounded ballots that were never counted after democratic elections among TAs and RAs at Brown University and at other private universities, including Columbia, Tufts and the University of Pennsylvania. The NYU administration has refused to bargain with members of GSOC/UAW Local 2110 ever since. 

In this week's ruling, the NLRB found "compelling reasons for reconsideration of the decision in Brown University" and ordered the matter returned to the New York regional director of the NLRB for a full hearing. 

"We look forward to our day in court," said Emma Kreyche, a teaching assistant in the NYU Department of Social and Cultural Analysis. "The labor board got it right the first time in 2000, when they examined all the evidence and found we are employees with full workplace rights."

Recent maneuvers by NYU administrators to avoid collective bargaining with TAs and RAs "just don't make any sense," said Kreyche.  NYU officials now concede that a few hundred teaching assistants (but no research assistants) are employees -- and they insist that this subset of NYU TAs can only be covered by a different union contract, which was bargained by adjunct faculty who are members of ACT/UAW Local 7902.  GSOC/UAW Local 2110 members had no role in negotiating the agreement which NYU officials say should govern their wages, working conditions and other terms of employment. 

"NYU has admitted that we are employees," said Kreyche, "So it's obvious we have the right to choose our own union. University administrators have no business trying to tell us which union to join. We have a right to select our own union and negotiate our own contract."

ACT/UAW Local 7902 is on record in full support of the right of NYU TAs and RAs to choose their own union. Local 7902 has declined to collect dues from workers who have been unilaterally assigned to their bargaining unit by the NYU administration.

"I had the opportunity to work with GSOC/UAW members in 2002, when we negotiated our first landmark agreement with NYU," said Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, which covers the New England states, Puerto Rico, and eastern New York (including New York City).  "It was a good contract for our members and for NYU, and widely viewed as a model for labor relations in higher education.

"We're confident we can once again reach an agreement that meets the needs of workers and the university -- and which can open the door for academic student employees at private institutions all over the country to exercise their workplace rights."

The UAW, one of the nation's most diverse labor unions, represents more than 45,000 workers in higher education, including teaching assistants, research assistants, academic administrators, full-time and adjunct faculty, postdoctoral researchers, and clerical, technical and professional employees.

NYU research and teaching assistants file for union representation

05/05/10

Overturning the Bush-era decision may set a national precedent

NEW YORK — After giving officials at New York University a week to voluntarily recognize their union — GSOC/UAW Local 2110 — 1,800 graduate teaching and research assistants at the private university this morning filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) asking for a union representation election. Although federal law requires submission of authorization cards from only 30 percent of a workforce to call an election, members of the Graduated Students Organizing Committee (GSOC) said they submitted “far in excess” of 50 percent.

The research and teaching assistants are counting on new labor board members recently appointed by President Obama to reverse the Bush-dominated board’s 2004 Brown decision, which stripped student employees of their right to bargain under federal law. That decision was prompted by university administrations trying to set aside union authorization elections at Brown, Columbia, and Tufts universities. It came just two years after the NYU group became the first graduate student workers to win an NLRB-supervised election and negotiate a contract with a private university.

“Winning this new election means we will regain the rights that were taken away from us five years ago,” said Kari Hensley, a third-year Ph.D. student in media, culture and communications who teaches several courses. “Workers’ rights are human rights and we work hard for this university.”

“The teaching assistants and research assistants do work that is critical to the success of NYU,” said Bob Madore, director of United Auto Workers (UAW) Region 9A, which includes New York and New England. “All they are asking for is what other workers at NYU have — the right to collective bargaining.”

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn said, “Over the last 10 years, a majority of NYU graduate employees have consistently chosen GSOC/UAW for union representation. The university has consistently denied them their rights and left these workers no choice but to take legal action.”