New York University grad students strike

NEW YORK — New York University’s graduate assistants’ union, GSOC/UAW 2110, began a strike Nov. 9 after NYU, using a 2004 National Labor Review Board ruling, failed to bargain with the union. The strike, which has national implications, has attracted widespread campus, community and labor support.

GSOC members say that NYU began preparations to break their union immediately after the 2004 NLRB ruling that took away the right of graduate assistants at private universities to unionize. A previous NLRB decision had taken the opposite stance, forcing the university to recognize the victory of what was then the Graduate Students Organizing Committee. In 2002, NYU negotiated a contract with GSOC, now a United Autoworkers local.

With GSOC’s contract set to expire on Aug. 31, NYU gave the union a “take it or leave it” proposed contract in early August, but did not even leave the union with enough time to set a vote, much less negotiate it.

The proposed contract was unacceptable to the graduate assistants for a number of reasons: It would have banned the normal union practice of using neutral third-party arbiters for grievances; the contract offered decent health care, but gave the university the right to reduce health provisions at will; it didn’t address a number of issues such as childcare, housing or overtime; and it called for an open shop.

Nationally, labor has made this struggle a focus. Many see the graduate assistants’ fate tied in with that of workers generally.

“I think there’s a general trend,” GSOC’s Steve Fletcher told the World. “The partisan NLRB decision that enabled NYU to not even consider recognizing us is part of a general trend to trying to take away workers’ rights to organize in as many different sectors as possible. They try to find any excuse they can to take away someone’s right to organize. We are right now a flash point in the fight between organized labor and conservative politics.”

On Aug. 31, the day the original contract ran out, well over a thousand teaching assistants and their supporters rallied in front of NYU President John Sexton’s office. Nearly 80 people were arrested in an act of civil disobedience, including national labor leaders from both sides of the recent split — John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, Unite Here leader Bruce Raynor and others — along with state Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), actor Morgan Fairchild, and dozens of teaching assistants and supporters.

Fletcher said national labor “has been fantastic,” and added, “We’ve gotten the support of the City Council. They are already starting to slow down the zoning process for NYU’s real estate ambitions in support of us. We’re getting very broad support, commitment and investment from the broader labor and community movement.”

As of Nov. 4, the Tisch School of Performing Arts passed a resolution in support of GSOC, and so did the Education School, as well as dozens of other departments and department chairs.

“We’re starting to see the entire campus getting organized,” Fletcher said, pointing out that a number of professors were moving their classes off campus to avoid crossing picket lines. “You’re not going to be able to go anywhere in the Village without stumbling across an NYU class that got moved.”