Graduate student workers prepared to strike next week

As GSOC’s April 26 strike deadline approaches, contract negotiations between the university and the union remain at a standstill.

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Alexandra Chan

The Graduate Student Organizing Committee set a deadline to go on strike on April 26 unless the union and the university successfully renegotiate graduate student employees’ collective bargaining agreement. Undergraduate student representatives and activist groups such as NYU’s Student Government Assembly, Sunrise NYU, and NYU YDSA have expressed support for the Graduate Student Organizing Committee. (Staff Photo by Alexandra Chan)

By Trace Miller and Arnav Binaykia

Members of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee will go on strike April 26 unless the union and the university successfully renegotiate graduate student employees’ collective bargaining agreement. With GSOC representing around 2,200 graduate student workers, the potential strike would have far-reaching and unprecedented effects on academics, student life and labor relations at NYU. 

GSOC announced earlier this month that 96.4% of participating union members had voted to authorize a strike, as WSN previously reported. Six days later, the union announced the strike deadline. 

GSOC has made clear from the start that whether a strike occurs depends on NYU’s own willingness to engage meaningfully on core contract proposals, so the university has every interest in continuing to bargain,” Anila Gill, a fifth-year Ph.D. student and member of GSOC’s bargaining committee, wrote in an email statement to WSN. 

According to Gill and Colin Vanderburg, a third-year Ph.D. student and member of GSOC’s bargaining committee, the union aims to settle on a contract before the end of the semester. 

“Our strike deadline came out of extensive conversations with organizers and rank-and-file members, and was based on our organizing capacity and bargaining timeline, and on the academic calendar,” Gill added. 

University spokesperson John Beckman condemned the decision to set a strike deadline, calling it “an unfortunate and untimely development,” and said the university believes the potential strike can be avoided if GSOC agrees to use a third-party mediator

“In the unfortunate event of a strike … NYU will focus on sustaining the academic progress of our students and the research enterprise,” Beckman wrote to WSN in an email statement. “In the meantime, NYU renews its call that GSOC agree to a neutral, mutually-agreed upon mediator, or offer the University community a frank explanation why they refuse again and again to make use of a longstanding practice in labor negotiations that is meant to help bring both sides together.”

Gill reiterated the union’s reasoning behind its opposition to the introduction of a mediator.

“Mediation typically requires closed bargaining, which would not allow our graduate workers to attend bargaining sessions,” said Gill. “We see it as an attempt by NYU to legitimize themselves in a process they have made illegitimate by refusing to meaningfully engage.”

Undergraduate student representatives and activist groups have expressed support for the strike and encouraged their peers to back the union’s bargaining efforts. NYU’s Student Government Assembly endorsed GSOC’s strike vote in an April 16 email and urged the student body to join them in their support of the union.

“On nearly every count, the University has failed to meet graduate workers even halfway,” SGA stated. “A strike is one of the most powerful tools a labor union has, and even the possibility of a strike can force the University to move towards negotiating a more equitable contract. We hope that you will join us in supporting graduate workers.”

The NYU chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America created a pledge of support for GSOC and their demands, which undergraduate students can sign. The pledge has amassed nearly 530 signatures at press time. CAS sophomore Karishma Chari and CAS junior Jake Colosa, members of NYU YDSA’s administrative committee, addressed potential concerns many undergraduate students may have about the potential strike.

“I think that is the first concern that a lot of undergrads have about a strike — like, ‘Oh, this is just gonna mess up how my classes operate,’” Chari said. “But your classes were already operating at a lower than average success rate. Because fundamentally, TAs just cannot do the work and put in the hours and overtime that they need to do to proofread your paper that extra time or help you pull sources for another paper. TAs can’t do all of that extra work in the current conditions.”

“While a strike may seem like it’s going to negatively impact undergraduate students in terms of your learning conditions, your learning conditions were already bad to begin with,” Chari continued. “At this point there’s pretty much only going up from here.”

Chari, Colosa and NYU YDSA have been working to build support for GSOC’s bargaining and strike efforts among undergrad students. Coordinating with GSOC and Sunrise NYU, NYU YDSA has turned out undergrads to GSOC’s strike authorization vote rally and started working on an FAQ sheet and TikTok campaign about unions and strikes. 

According to Colosa and Chari, the best way to build solidarity between undergrad students and grad student workers is by having conversations with peers. It’s important to do so, Colosa argued, because the university might try to play down the strike and turn undergrad students against grad student workers by telling undergraduates that graduates are disrupting their academics. 

“We’re circulating this pledge and trying to raise awareness among undergraduates to kind of preempt that, so that NYU can’t say undergraduates don’t support this strike,” Colosa said. “We’re trying to show that there is support for these demands and there is support for GSOC.”

The potential strike would not be GSOC’s first. In 2006, graduate student workers went on strike for six months before gaining union recognition from the university.  In 2015, the university and union averted a planned strike after tentatively agreeing upon a contract hours before the strike was scheduled to begin.

If a strike were to occur, its effects on the university’s functioning and academics leading into the final weeks of the spring 2021 semester remain to be seen. 

Earlier this year, graduate workers at Columbia University went on strike for three weeks. Class syllabi were cut short, assignments were dropped,  and some professors considered canceling their classes altogether as a result, according to the Columbia Spectator. The strike at Columbia was put on indefinite pause on April 2 for mediation talks. Columbia’s graduate student workers union is now voting on a final contract agreement.

The next bargaining session between GSOC and NYU is scheduled for April 22, according to Gill, and additional dates have been proposed. 

Many GSOC members working as TAs have already begun talking with undergrad students to inform and prepare them in advance of a potential strike,” Gill wrote. “Undergrads would not face any academic, financial, or other penalties as a result of a GSOC strike … Our working conditions are undergrads’ learning conditions: grad workers’ ability to work for living wages in a safe and supportive environment, with adequate health and other benefits, has a direct impact on the quality of our teaching, grading, advising, and research.”

Email Trace Miller at [email protected] and Arnav Binaykia at [email protected]