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

Opinion: NYU should recognize the researchers union

Researchers at NYU deserve more benefits and support from the university. The first step is recognition.
Shiphrah Moses
File Photo: NYU Researchers United delivered their letter calling for university recognition in Bobst Library on Thursday, Oct 26. (Shiphrah Moses for WSN)

Last Thursday, NYU Researchers United, the union representing postdoctoral researchers, graduate assistants and staff scientists at the university, asked NYU for recognition for the first time through a letter addressed to university president Linda Mills. After years of denying formal union recognition to other employees, Mills now has the opportunity to amend the university’s relationship with its unions — and she should take it. 

The around 210 researchers across various NYU departments and fields that signed the letter deserve better. Many need higher wages and better benefits to even afford housing in Manhattan, putting their mission and ability to work at NYU at risk. For a university that prides itself on its research — it is one of 146 institutions with the highest research classification in the country — recognition is the least it can do for the employees that built its reputation.

The organization is seeking to negotiate its first contract, which other post-doc unions at major research universities across the country, like Columbia University, the University of Connecticut, the University of Washington and the University of California, negotiated for 13, 16 and 18 months, respectively. If other higher education institutions, some of which have smaller endowments than NYU, can recognize and come to an agreement with their research unions, there’s no reason NYU can’t do the same.

Sébastien Kleff, an electrical and computer engineering Ph.D. student at Tandon School of Engineering and member of the union, told WSN that NYU has not yet responded to the union’s proposal, despite nearly 70 percent of researchers being in support of it.

NYU has a rocky past with on-campus labor unions. In April 2021, the university’s graduate student union, GSOC-UAW, went on strike for three weeks after NYU failed to meet its demands. Last year, months of negotiations with its adjunct union, ACT-UAW Local 7902, came close to ending in a strike after negotiations came to a standstill. Now, the university’s contract faculty union, Contract Faculty United, continues to fight a yearslong battle for recognition from NYU.

It is interesting that despite its actions to the contrary, NYU has continued to say it supports its workers. In an email interview with WSN in March, Mills said she thinks “all employees of NYU, unionized or otherwise, should be treated with dignity” and that “NYU respects and values their contributions.” Also in March, former NYU president Andrew Hamilton told contract faculty that the administration respects “the contributions that full-time continuing contract faculty make to NYU and its academic mission.” NYU’s leaders cannot claim to treat their workers with dignity or that they respect their contributions when they refuse to recognize their needs. 

If NYU wants to continue to attract top academics and researchers, it needs to show that they are valued by the university. Undergraduate students considering a career in academia will be turned off by NYU’s lack of support for its researchers — and they have no lack of alternatives that have chosen to support their post-doc unions to choose from. If NYU is going to invest in a plethora of undergraduate research programs, it needs to follow through and make sure its young academics continue to be supported throughout their careers.

Research assistants are crucial to the success of experiments, research publication and lab preparation and maintenance. A week has passed since the delivery of the signed letter, and the lack of response from the administration is in line with its history of undermining on-campus labor groups. This is NYU’s opportunity to change how it treats its unions, and for the sake of both its employees and its future as a research university, it should recognize NRU.

WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are solely the views of the writer.

Contact Valentina Plevisani at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Valentina Plevisani
Valentina Plevisani, Deputy Opinion Editor
Valentina Plevisani is a junior majoring in Politics and Journalism and minoring in Italian. Born and raised in Peru she hopes to be a political journalist and is obssessed with reading. When she's not writing you can find her baking, down a Wikipedia rabbit hole or, honestly just taking a nap.
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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