New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Explained: Why researchers at NYU are unionizing

Some NYU researchers have recently had their salaries increased following yearslong unionization efforts, but most are still fighting for higher wages.
Shiphrah Moses
NYU Contract Faculty United and Researchers United marched with members of UAW Region 9A at a Labor Day parade on Saturday, Sept. 9. (Shiphrah Moses for WSN)

The majority of the around 4,000 researchers at NYU, including Ph.D. students and postdoctoral fellows, have signed authorization cards to form a union after ongoing efforts since May 2020. 

Last month, the university announced that it is raising the minimum salary for postdoctoral fellows at NYU Langone Health to $70,000 and $51,000 for graduate assistants beginning this academic year.

This change reflects a 15% and 10% salary increase for NYU Langone postdocs and graduate assistants respectively, but does not apply to the other positions represented by the group, including lab assistants and research scientists. Despite this, Ruby Steedle, a researcher at NYU’s Cash Transfer Lab, said that unionization would increase their chances of improved work conditions, such as better pay and health care benefits. 

“Without a union and a contract, researchers have no guarantee of their working conditions or even their job stability,” Steedle said. “We need the power of all researchers together to force NYU to recognize our value to the university.”

The group, while affiliated with UAW, is not yet assigned to a local union like other on-campus labor groups. While also not recognized by the university, NYU Contract Faculty United — the union representing over 500 contract faculty at NYU — is affiliated with ACT-UAW Local 7902, NYU’s adjunct union. Zoe Carey, Local 7902’s president, said that while the union supports the researchers’ unionization efforts, there is no indication as to what local union they would be attached to upon recognition.

Despite NYU Langone’s increase in salaries for postdocs and graduate assistants, university spokesperson John Beckman said that there hasn’t been any communication with NYU regarding the researchers’ unionization efforts. 

“So far, there hasn’t been any contact about such a group forming a collective bargaining unit of researchers,” Beckman said. “What I can say is that NYU highly values and respects the members of our research community.”

Joy Barrett, a research assistant at NYU Langone, said that consistent pay increases for researchers on campus would help legitimize researchers as union employees and “reflect the level of dedication and commitment that employees give to their work.”

“We are being paid minimally in order to produce meaningful, life-altering data and analysis and are not recognized for our worth,” Barrett said. “By leveraging NYU to take more of the wage overhead, you free lead investigators of the pressures of the competitive research environment. The lab becomes less like a venture-capitalist-backed startup and more like the collaborative and inquisitive space it was meant to be.”

Laura Lee, a postdoc in the union, said that once she began her postdoctoral fellowship, a position that sometimes doesn’t receive university funding, she was no longer considered an employee at NYU and most of her benefits were stripped away.

“I lost almost all of my employee benefits, including access to a retirement account and vision insurance,” Lee said. “It honestly feels like a scam that I had to take a pay cut and lose my benefits to advance my career. The university shouldn’t be allowed to do that.”

Correction, Sept. 14: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the researchers union is seeking recognition and has voted to form a union. The article has been updated to reflect this correction, and WSN regrets the error.

Contact Nikki Mirala at [email protected].


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About the Contributor
Shiphrah Moses
Shiphrah Moses, Identity & Equity Editor
Shiphrah Moses is a sophomore studying Dramatic Writing at Tisch. She lives in the Bay Area in California, but is originally from Bangalore, India. She loves writing, acting, music and pretty much anything that involves storytelling. When she’s not doing any of the above, she’s either napping or doing her nails. You can find her at @shiphrahmoses on Instagram or contact her at [email protected].

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    Bob KatzSep 14, 2023 at 3:53 pm

    To all the new students best of luck. Being in such a large university located in New York brings many challenges. Try not to get overwhelmed as you enter a new phase of your life