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News :: Labor
NYU nixes recognition of grad-student union
06 Jul 2005
In a clear attempt to smash the 950-member graduate-employee union at New York University, administrators recently announced that as of Aug. 31 they would no longer recognize the union, an affiliate of United Auto Workers Local 2110.
After NLRB ruling
NYU nixes recognition of grad-student union

By Bryan G. Pfeifer

In a clear attempt to smash the 950-member graduate-employee union at New York University, administrators recently announced that as of Aug. 31 they would no longer recognize the union, an affiliate of Auto Workers Local 2110.

“NYU should no longer use a union as an intermediary with our students; accordingly, the University should not negotiate a new contract with the UAW,’ read a June 16 memorandum issued by Executive Vice President Jacob Lew and Provost David McLaughlin.

In place of the union, the administration proposes a "representative" student group to “interact’ with the bosses. The administration claims that through this group a grievance process and written rights and responsibilities for graduate and teaching assistants would be adhered to.

But union leaders and members aren´t fooled. Without a legally binding union contract the student-workers have virtually no protections and rights. And graduate student-worker unions are often a stable ally for progressive organizations at universities.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled in July 2004 that graduate students at private colleges are solely students, not workers, and cannot form unions. This ruling reversed a 2000 Labor Board ruling that graduate students did indeed have the right to organize as workers and that private universities like NYU therefore had to recognize their unions.

After a multi-faceted organizing drive that included dozens of job actions and various protests, NYU recognized the graduate student union in March 2001. Union and management negotiated a five-year contract, retroactive to 2000 and due to expire this Aug. 31.

Graduate employees who work at public universities are public employees, with labor rights governed under different federal and state laws.

Whether at public or private universities, graduate employees teach classes, often with hundreds of undergraduate students, conduct research, grade papers, host review sessions and often do very similar work to that of tenured professors. But they are paid a pittance, have few or no benefits, and live in virtual poverty. They often work with inadequate or no support staff or facilities while simultaneously attempting to complete their own graduate work and, in many cases, raise children.

In response to the NYU decision, Graduate Student Organizing Committee-UAW 2110 president Michael Palm, a doctoral candidate in American studies, said the graduate employees are fighting for their union as they have been doing for years.

“We´re very disappointed and quite frankly appalled, but we´re definitely not surprised," Palm said June 16. "[We´re] appalled that a supposedly liberal institution would not respect the overwhelming desire of its graduate students to bargain collectively as a union.

“What this means for us is that we´re now organizing for recognition, just like we were five years ago. I see them backing us into a corner where we will have no choice [but] to strike.’

Many unions, including the 2,400-member Graduate Employee Organization, UAW Local 2322 at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, support the NYU graduate employees. In an emergency email to its members, the Local 2322 union leadership called on its members to support their sisters and brothers at NYU.

Likewise, the AFL-CIO asked readers of its June 23 “Voice at Work’ email update to contact the NYU administration and demand that it recognize the union.

According to the NYU administration, a 30-day period of notice and comment on the proposed decision will run through July 16. Email ga.dialogue (at) to demand the administration recognize the union.

For more information see

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(c) 2005 Bryan G. Pfeifer. Article may be used in full or in part provided full attribution is given to author.

Labor donated.

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This work is in the public domain
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