NYU Is Neglecting Its Struggling Graduate Students

NYU’s graduate student union and its fight for a fair contract have been met with complete disregard. It’s time for the administration to step up and meet the demands of its graduate student workforce for negotiations, or else risk a collective strike.

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By Asha Ramachandran, Deputy Opinion Editor

More than 1,200 graduate students who belong to the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) have signed a petition demanding to resume negotiations for a fair contract. After months of stalling and indifference from the administration, NYU’s union of graduate student workers are prepared to authorize a collective strike. 

Since June, NYU rejected GSOC’s demands for a living wage, fair and safe working conditions and healthcare coverage. The coronavirus pandemic ushered in a severe recession, which has hurt student workers. Historically, economic crises disproportionately impact young people. Young workers across the country bear the brunt of the pandemic, making bold action urgent now more than ever. These demands would foster a supportive work environment as economic and health crises continue to destabilize the lives of vulnerable workers. 

GSOC has worked tirelessly to outline their demands, attempting to engage the administration and advance negotiations, all to no avail. Their “25 detailed proposals and counter-proposals” put out since June warranted a series of rejections and meager counter-proposals from the administration, such as a $1 raise for hourly workers instead of the $40 per hour wage proposed.

GSOC’s demands for compensation and benefits are bold but wholly feasible for a university with an endowment worth $4.7 billion and notoriously high tuition fees. The university limits the schedule of graduate students to work 10-20 hours per week for a wage of $20/hr. Due to New York City’s high cost of living, this amount is insufficient. $40 per hour would constitute a fitting alternative as graduate workers often struggle just to work for 10 hours per week. Even in the middle of a pandemic, NYU graduate student workers are burdened with out-of-pocket healthcare costs, rising expenses and inadequate benefits. 

The union’s attempt illustrates the broader necessity for strong collective bargaining efforts and unionization in all job sectors as economic insecurity reaches unprecedented levels. After threatening to strike in 2015, the union made significant strikes to obtain higher wages and subsidized healthcare. As survival becomes increasingly difficult, GSOC is putting a strike on the table if their demands for contract negotiations are not met. 

More radical demands from cutting ties with NYPD to creating a sanctuary campus with legal assistance for immigrants stem from GSOC’s commitment to social justice values. These requests reflect growing traction for racial equality movements across the country that have called for defunding and divesting from the police. The struggle for social and economic justice represent GSOC’s core principles.

GSOC epitomizes labor power’s radical roots and its potential for effecting meaningful change. The administration’s rejection of GSOC’s increasingly popular demands for fairness and social justice has only made the prospect of a collective graduate student strike more likely. Such a demonstration of the power of a unified labor force warrants universal support from the NYU community and its allies.

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Email Asha Ramachandran at [email protected]