The Graduate Student Organizing Committee elected four new members to its bargaining committee in hopes of creating a more democratic union. GSAS students David Klassen, Shelly Ronen and Ella Wind, along with Steinhardt graduate student Ayesha Omer, were elected on Wednesday, Sept. 25 to fill the seats vacated in July when four students resigned from the eight-student Bargaining Committee.
The new committee members ran together on a slate organized as Academic Workers for a Democratic Union. The AWDU candidates won the election by a nearly 70 percent margin. Klassen said the purpose of AWDU is to change the union, which he said has been perceived as unresponsive and undemocratic.
“I think this election clearly communicates that graduate students want a union that is transparent and democratic, which is to say graduate students want a union that communicates with them and responds to their needs and concerns,” Klassen said.
The bargaining committee speaks on behalf of the union, which has represented graduate employees since December 2013, during contract negotiations with the university. Currently, graduate student workers are not under contract.
Current member of the bargaining committee and GSAS student worker Natasha Raheja said she hopes the new committee will be able to mobilize rank-and-file members to support a more member-led contract campaign.
“I hope the new committee will fight for a short contract that meets our pressing needs of higher wages and better health care coverage, and that primes us to make greater and continued wins in subsequent negotiations once John Sexton resigns and NYU gets a new president,” Raheja said.
NYU spokesman John Beckman said the new bargaining committee will not change the university’s approach to the negotiations.
“We mutually remain committed to achieving a good and fair contract that properly recognizes the contributions of our unionized employees,” Beckman said.
Beckman added that the university offered the graduate student workers a contract with an adjunct faculty pay rate, the financial aid package they already receive, payment of their health insurance premiums and research stipends.
Raheja said the university did not agree, however, to cover the full premiums, to reverse cuts made in 2012 or to negotiate raises to stipends, all of which the union is still requesting.
Klassen said another issue the new bargaining committee hopes to address is their grievance over emails sent to GSAS students telling them they would receive health insurance rebates well above the amounts they eventually received.
Beckman said the company that administers the graduate student workers’ health plan produced the emails and incorrectly promised portions of the rebates NYU was entitled to. Klassen said the argument has led to distrust in the university and a call from within the union for a more transparent bargaining committee.
“The union moved very slowly on fashioning a response to the debacle that was the health care rebate,” Klassen said. “It’s actually one of the examples of non-responsiveness that moved people to organize a change.”
The GSOC will be holding its next bargaining session at 3:45 p.m. on Sept. 30 in the lobby of 105 E. 17th St.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 29 print edition. Email Kevin Burns at [email protected]