Earlier this week, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, a union that represents graduate teaching and research assistants at NYU including myself, reached an agreement with NYU administration on a contract desperately needed by our members. This contract will provide 90 percent of individual health premiums to hundreds of graduate employees who currently lack any coverage paid for by the university. It will also increase the minimum hourly wage from $10 to $15.
This is not the first contract negotiated by GSOC that has featured massive gains for workers. In 2002, the same elected GSOC leaders who represented us in these negotiations, Julie Kushner and Maida Rosenstein, worked with GSOC members to negotiate a historic contract with NYU that raised stipends 38 percent. Inspired by what happened at NYU, funding increased at Columbia University as well. Now, Columbia graduate workers who have once again demanded recognition as part of our own UAW Local 2110 will be heartened to see that it is possible to achieve great things through
This is certainly cause for celebration, but we should not be fooled by the university’s narrative about its so-called generous offer. Anything less than this agreement would have been grounds for strike — less than $15 dollars an hour from NYU would hardly be acceptable when fast food workers across the country have justly demanded as much. More importantly, this offer had nothing to do with generosity. It was the result of consistent and overwhelming majority member support for our demands in the form of an open letter with over 1,000 signatures, a strike authorization vote with almost 1,100 yes votes and a public pledge to organize for a strike by leaders from
Joy and relief also should not prevent us from continuing to critically examine our own work. We did not win full retroactive wage increases for the lowest-paid workers in our union: research assistants at the Polytechnic School of Engineering. The contractual amount of $1,500 represents approximately four months, far short of the full calendar year negotiations lasted. Since our most ardent internal debate concerned how long to allow bargaining to continue without setting a strike deadline, it is important to note that our delay may well have resulted in lost wages for many of our members.
Moreover, the workers and elected representatives of UAW Local 2110 have supported our campaign with their time, experience and dues money, and in continuing to ally ourselves with them we should be careful to avoid academic exceptionalism, the belief that the ivory tower makes us fundamentally different from other workers, and separatism, the temptation to retreat into our own special structures.
Nevertheless, our contract victory is an important step forward for academic and other workers fighting together for a more just university. It is a proud time to be part of GSOC.
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A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, March 11 print edition. Email Jacob Denz at [email protected]