NYU’s grad student workers will go on strike beginning Monday
NYU and GSOC, the union representing NYU’s graduate student workers, remain at a stalemate over contract negotiations. Members of GSOC will not report to work starting April 26, barring a last-minute agreement between the university and the union.
Apr 23, 2021
Graduate student workers will go on strike starting Monday, April 26, after NYU and the Graduate Student Organizing Committee failed to resolve differences between the union’s proposed contract and the university’s counterproposals in an April 22 bargaining session. This means that they will not be teaching classes, grading papers or holding office hours.
NYU could avert the strike if they reach a last-minute agreement with GSOC on a contract, as happened in 2015. However, the next bargaining session is not scheduled until after the union’s April 26 strike deadline.
“We came to the table today ready to make agreements with NYU, and NYU basically told us they didn’t want our agreement,” Sarah Sklaw, a spokesperson for GSOC and Ph.D. candidate in history at NYU said. “There is a sliver of a chance that NYU will desperately call us on Sunday and bring us back to the bargaining table, but you can expect to see us on the picket line on Monday morning.”
NYU, however, maintains that they have made productive counterproposals, and are prepared to negotiate in good faith.
“NYU felt that some real progress was made at the bargaining table — enough so that Thursday’s bargaining session was extended by several hours,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement to WSN. “In spite of this, the Union stonewalls — they make unreasonable demands (like 60% increases in hourly wages or propose benefits we don’t even offer our full-time workers); they want to bargain on academic issues, such as financial aid; and they reject proposed weekday bargaining times.”
Negotiations failed to move forward during the 10-hour virtual bargaining session between GSOC and NYU on April 22, despite both sides bringing forth proposals. During the meeting, NYU expressed willingness to renegotiate issues such as vacation accrual and parental leave, but did not change position on GSOC’s central demands: a significant increase in hourly wages and tuition waivers for graduate workers.
“NYU is an incredibly expensive university,” Sklaw said. “The pay rate that hourly workers get is in no way enough to cover tuition and living expenses … It’s not enough to cover one of them, and it’s definitely not enough to cover both.”
In response, NYU said that their proposed hourly wages will surpass those offered to grad student workers by other universities.
“NYU’s proposals would leave our hourly graduate employees significantly ahead of peer institutions,” Beckman said. “While NYU currently pays $20/hr to hourly workers, Harvard and Columbia just settled contracts for $17/hr; the 20% increase we are proposing is on top of the current $20/hr NYU is paying.”
The strike will greatly impact the university’s functioning, as graduate students are employed in nearly all offices and departments as teaching assistants, tutors, research assistants and program administrators.
“In the event of a strike, NYU’s focus will be on sustaining the academic progress of our students,” Beckman said.
GSOC said there was no discussion about the logistics of the strike with NYU and no indication of when or how the university will communicate a course of action to undergraduates, faculty and staff. They added that they internally discussed how to minimize the strike’s impact on undergraduate students taught by grad student workers.
“Our teaching conditions are our students’ learning conditions,” Sklaw said. “We’ve encouraged our membership to be in communication with their students. We have created email drafts, and have been reaching out.”
College of Arts and Science sophomore Karishma Chari, a volunteer strike coordinator with the NYU chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, expressed support for the upcoming strike and condemned both NYU’s treatment of its grad student workers and its stance at the bargaining table.
“With the strike likely starting next week, YDSA would just like to show so much solidarity to our GSOC organizers and bargaining committee that have spent 10-plus hours in one day bargaining with NYU,” Chari told WSN. “Clearly, NYU does not care about their workers, considering their inability to budge on any sort of demands and even try to come to some sort of agreement this weekend even though the bargaining committee has made it abundantly clear that they are free.”
According to Chari, undergraduate student activist organizations like NYU YDSA and Sunrise Movement NYU are working to show undergraduate students how they can best support GSOC, whether by sending thank-you notes to teaching assistants or educating fellow undergrads about unions and strikes.
Undergrads can also attend virtual picket lines and virtual teach-ins — which will be happening throughout the strike — and donate to GSOC’s mutual aid fund.
“The most important thing that we as undergrads must do is to not cross the picket line, whether that’s virtually or in person,” Chari said. “That includes cancelling any public-facing events that you have, or not attending those public-facing events that are supposed to be held on campus, or not attending university-hosted events — just to show how we as undergraduate students do not support NYU and their anti-workers’ rights endeavors.”
Undergrads interested in supporting GSOC can also sign NYU YDSA’s pledge.
“Time and time again, GSOC went to NYU’s team with really good-faith effort to bring us closer to an agreement, and time and time again, NYU told us to eat dirt,” Sklaw said.