After nine months of constant stonewalling from the university administration, NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee is holding a strike authorization vote. They’re demanding a living wage, free healthcare, severed ties with the New York City Police Department and the designation of NYU as a sanctuary campus. All of these demands are rooted in the collective struggle for social and economic justice by workers across the country. The NYU community, especially the student body and faculty, should stand in solidarity with GSOC in the event of a strike.
GSOC’s negotiation efforts for a fair contract have been met with consistent rejection and an inadequate counteroffer. For example, GSOC proposed a $40 an hour wage with a 3.5% annual raise as compensation. NYU, in response, offered a mere $21 an hour with alternating 2.5% and 2% annual raises. This was a one-dollar raise from their previous wage, $20 an hour for master’s students. Out of 81 proposals by the union, four were agreed upon and 64 were rejected outright by the administration with no counteroffers.
These rejections and meager counter proposals have only added insult to injury for NYU graduate students, who do not make a living wage. These workers earn only $20 an hour and are limited by the university to a maximum of 20 hours per week, while a full-time worker would normally work 40 hours. A $40 an hour wage for a single adult working 20 hours a week is hardly a living wage in New York City, so GSOC is not asking for much. Even in the midst of a global pandemic and economic crisis, where workers need more support than ever, the administration has refused to meet its graduate student workers’ demands halfway.
NYU has an obligation to its workers that it has failed to meet. Until it is met, its graduate students are under no obligation to provide their labor to the university. A strike would entail the strategic collective withholding of labor by graduate students until their demands for contract negotiations are recognized. It’s an effective tool to pressure the university into providing for its student workers and creating a safe campus and working environment.
Past strikes have been decisive factors in graduate student victories. The 2020 University of California at Santa Cruz graduate student strike for a cost-of-living adjustment was ultimately successful after weeks of picketing and months of campaigning and withholding labor. Additionally, faculty support for the campaign from UC schools and universities nationwide helped broaden the reach of the strike and graduate student campaign across the country. In September, University of Michigan graduate student workers on strike stressed that it was “impossible to overemphasize how important [undergraduate support] is” after overwhelming shows of support from the undergraduate student body. Strike funds, which support student workers while university administrators withhold pay and retaliate against strikers, are also instrumental in allowing for workers to survive while striking. At Columbia, where the graduate student union has been striking for three weeks, a strike fundraiser has raised $180K as the university docks worker salaries.
Solidarity from the NYU community, including faculty and the undergraduate student body, could mean the difference between success and failure for the strike. Acts of solidarity with GSOC include donations to strike fundraisers, joining graduate students on the picket line, and letters, phone calls and emails to the administration in support of the union’s demands.
Graduate student workers are the lifeblood of academic institutions everywhere, including at NYU. They deserve a fair contract that guarantees adequate compensation, a safe campus, benefits, and protections for vulnerable workers. In the increasingly likely event of a strike at NYU, the student body and faculty must offer their uncompromising solidarity if the strike is to succeed. As the administration continues to let graduate students down, the community must step up.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Apr. 5, 2021 e-print edition. Email Asha Ramachandran at [email protected]