Victory for Tandon workers as tentative agreement reached with NYU

Tandon employees represented by the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153 are voting to ratify a six-year contract that includes childcare subsidies, a percentage increase in wages and portable tuition. 

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Manasa Gudavalli

On Nov. 12, a Tandon union came to a tentative agreement with NYU. The new contract provides employees with benefits like childcare subsidies and a percentage increase in wage and portable tuition. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

By Rachel Cohen, Deputy News Editor

A union representing approximately 38 non-teaching staff at the Tandon School of Engineering came to a tentative agreement with NYU on Friday, Nov. 12, after several bargaining sessions. 

If ratified, the six-year contract would provide the employees with a variety of new benefits, including childcare subsidies, a percentage increase in wages, and portable tuition for the dependents of union employees. The workers, who organize as the Office and Professional Employees International Union Local 153, are still in the contract voting process as of press time.

“Our members are happy that they can now breathe freely,” said Susan Hermon, the union chief shop steward and program coordinator at Tandon’s Center for K12 STEM Education. “You are in limbo — you don’t know how salary is going to be, how medical coverage is going to be — all of that is up in the air.”

Since the summer, the union — which organized under the slogan “We Are Violet too!” — has called for the same tuition remission plan, child care assistance, increased wages, and a remote working policy for NYU faculty and non-union staff. The employees continued to abide by the terms of its previous contract, which expired in December 2020, until a new agreement was reached with the university. 

Under the tentative agreement, the Tandon employees received a 17.25% increase in their base salary, a 2% increase over the union’s 2015 contract. They are also now eligible to participate in NYU’s Portable Tuition Benefit Plan for faculty, administrators, researchers, retirees and staff, which includes a $7,275 tuition reimbursement for their children who attend an accredited college or university. Previously, union members received financial support only if their dependents attended NYU.

“None of our kids are getting accepted into NYU, which is the issue,” Hermon said. “In the last six years, none of our children are getting any tuition remission. Younger people with younger families now want to take advantage if our kid does not go or get into NYU and at least receive some form of assistance toward our tuition to another educational institution.”

Our members are happy that they can now breathe freely.”

— Susan Hermon, OPEIU Local 153 union chief shop steward

Tricia Chang, a union member and administrative assistant at Tandon’s civil and urban engineering department, said that portable tuition would have helped her family immensely after her husband’s small business suffered during the pandemic. Her two children are both pursuing degrees in higher education.

“Any benefits that advance education and are offered to any other employees should be offered to us,” Chang said. “The goal is to advance higher learning, and we want to do that with our own families. We’re doing it within the university by supporting our departments, faculty and students.”

Seth Goldstein, one of the union negotiators and OPEIU Local 153 senior business representative, said the employees’ original tuition remission plan contradicted the university’s commitment to diversity and inclusion by restricting children of working class families from affording college. 

“If it’s just the elite, millionaires, and billionaires, then how do you have a real classroom discussion if you don’t have working people there?” Goldstein said. “Even Amazon, which is a horrible company and a sweatshop, offers free college education, but at NYU, we don’t have it.”

NYU’s employee telecommuting policy, which allows staff to request to work remotely for one or more days per week, only applied to employees who are not covered by a collective bargaining agreement. Hermon said the union will work to implement a similar policy through its Labor Management Committee — composed of NYU representatives and Local 153 union members — before the end of the year. 

University spokesperson John Beckman said the university was committed to negotiating in good faith to reach a contract with union members.

“From the onset, NYU’s goal has been to come to terms on a fair agreement that honors the contributions of this bargaining unit’s members,” Beckman wrote in a statement to WSN. “We’re pleased to have reached a tentative agreement.”

Goldstein said that the victory highlights the importance of collective action and the power of unions in reaching demands from the university.

“It’s a real movement for change and equality on campus,” he said. “Whenever I get a victory, I get a grilled cheese sandwich. And this is worth one.”

A version of this article appeared in the Nov. 15, 2021, e-print edition. Contact Rachel Cohen at [email protected]