Cuts to NYU graduate employee benefits hurt gender inclusivity in academic workplace

This Women’s History Month there is a curious silence about how NYU’s recent cuts to graduate employee health benefits contribute to making the university less inclusive.  NYU’s continued denial of collective bargaining to research and teaching assistants inhibits our ability to address these cuts and other ongoing challenges for women in the academic workforce.

A study by Yale University shows that women face unique obstacles when breaking into academia. There is still a gap between the wages of men and women in the academic field, for one, and an even wider income gap between women and women with children. Women in the workforce still face a lack of family-friendly policies, like paid family leave, affordable dependent health care and child care subsidies. Furthermore, graduate employees at these universities have a fair grievance procedure through which they have successfully addressed pregnancy-based discrimination and are in a stronger position to manage instances of sexual harassment or racial discrimination.

This is not just a problem for individual women pursuing academic careers, but it also jeopardizes the inclusiveness and quality of our institutions of higher education. Many women with children do not pursue graduate education because of the lack of resources and options for family support.

As graduate employees at NYU, we witness these obstacles first hand. While we earn one of the more nationally competitive stipends, NYU is sorely lacking in many of the family-friendly policies mentioned above. The recent cuts to graduate employee benefits signal academia becoming less sustainable for women in general.

For example, NYU increased dependent health insurance premiums by 33 percent this year, bringing the cost to insure a dependent child to $4,460 or nearly 18 percent of our annual stipend. This is prohibitively expensive for most of us and particularly prohibitive for international students or those from low-income backgrounds. And while early GSOC/UAW organizing helped increase the availability of child care subsidies for NYU graduate students over a decade ago, the subsidy remains a mere $200 per semester. Finally, we lack any type of guaranteed family leave.

At the University of Massachusetts and University of Washington, on the other hand, UAW-represented graduate employees have succeeded in getting the university to pay for a majority of dependent health care premiums — 65 percent at UW and 90 percent at UMASS. UAW graduate employees at the University of California, Berkeley have bargained for four weeks of paid family leave.

These are some of the many reasons why we, and a majority of our colleagues, support GSOC-UAW. Overall, collective bargaining puts us in a stronger position to address real challenges we have as workers at the university and make the university better and more accessible at the same time.

In honor of Women’s History Month, we urge NYU to respect graduate employees’ right to a democratic choice on winning back our Union so we can work for a more inclusive NYU.