Friday, February 02, 2007

Updates on the Grievance Procedure

The grad employees who filed a grievance last year in response to being fired by the administration in order to test the workings of the current NYU grievance procedure have received responses from the administration (you can read more about the grievance procedure etc in Nerds coverage from last March).

Below is a copy of the letter one grievant received. The highlights:
  1. The letter claims that using the student disciplinary procedure would have resulted in expulsion and a permanent disciplinary record, therefore the fact that the university did not follow its own official disciplinary policies was an act of kindness. Of course, had the university followed its own disciplinary procedures, it is not at all clear that the grad employees would have been disciplined, as there were individuals sympathetic to the strike on the disciplinary committee.
  2. The letter also admits that the grievants are correct in noting that their behavior does not seem to have violated anything in the student disciplinary procedure, further suggesting that the disciplinary procedure would not have resulted in any discipline.
  3. While the letter does admit that not all striking teaching assistants were fired (unfortunately using the vague "several," which would suggest something like 3-5, when it was much more than that), the letter claims that no one could find any reason other than the desire to be sure that all fired workers were in fact not working for which workers were fired and which were not. Nevermind that the bulk of workers fired were in English and other fired workers were among the most vocal in the press.
  4. Finally, the letter claims that the grievant herself did not accept her teaching assignment, and that this act of non-acceptance was "an appropriate action on the part of the University." This makes no sense. If the grievant chose not to accept her assignment, than it is not the University who took an action. If it is the University's action, than it is not the grievant who made the choice. The signatory on this letter is a psychology and neural science professor--you'd think he'd be more familiar with basic logic!


I am writing in response to your name being listed on a formal grievance submitted in August, 2006. As per the Interim Grievance Procedure for Graduate Assistants, a hearing was convened on December 1, 2006 and I have subsequently investigated and evaluated the positions taken in your grievance.


You argued that in responding to the agreed upon fact that you did not fulfill assignments that were part of your financial aid award, the University failed to abide by the prescribed School and University disciplinary procedures. The reasons that I have uncovered for the University’s decision not to use the student discipline procedure are as follows. Firstly, the School and University disciplinary procedures allow that students may be expelled from the University as a possible penalty action. In President Sexton's letter of November 28, 2005, he explicitly stated that no student "will have the ability to continue their own studies affected". Accordingly, the use of the student disciplinary procedure would have introduced unacceptable risks to the students. Secondly, and as was stated in your grievance, it was not at all clear that the behavior in question violated any of the proscriptions articulated in the disciplinary procedure. Finally, a disciplinary penalty would have resulted in a permanent disciplinary record. In all, it is my judgment that the use of the student disciplinary procedure would not have been appropriate.


It was also asserted in the grievance that the “process” that was used was not based on any other process prescribed in University or School rules and that the process used was not adequately communicated to the affected students. It is my finding that in the absence of a prescribed procedure for responding to a University-wide concern, responsibility falls to the President as the chief academic officer. Consistent with the fact that President Sexton was the sole signatory to his letter of November 28 that identified the proscribed behavior and its consequences, President Sexton has indeed taken full responsibility for structuring the procedure according to which the matter was handled. He has consulted with a group of high level administrators including academic deans as well as have consulted with a council of all Deans and Vice Presidents. The explanations of the procedure provided by President Sexton's November 28 letter and the subsequent letter from Vice Provost Frank Hoppensteadt, who represented the President and his consultation group to the students, have not omitted any important aspect of the procedure. As an alternative to the preexisting disciplinary procedure, the process implemented offered the same protections to the students as the disciplinary procedure, though the ordering of steps was somewhat different. As in the disciplinary process, the students were apprised of the possible administrative responses and the behavior that would produce them. As in the disciplinary procedure, the administrative actions were established by the proper authority, in this case, the President. And as in disciplinary procedure, students were given an opportunity through the grievance procedure to challenge any action involved. Additionally, the students were afforded an appeal of the finding in the case. Finally, students were informed about the authority, the proscribed behavior and the contingent University response well before any such behavior could have been committed. It does not appear that any protection offered by the disciplinary procedure was denied. The process was developed in accordance with proper University governance and was consistent with a standard of fairness provided by comparable preexisting process.


The grievance also challenged the implementation of President Sexton's procedure, claiming that the actions announced by Vice Provost Hoppensteadt were inconsistent with the principles laid down in President Sexton's letter. It is my finding that indeed the language of the Hoppensteadt letter in which the loss of stipend was reduced from two semesters to one was ambiguous. The letter states that because it was determined that you had not accepted your spring teaching assignment, that "the loss of one semester applies". On discussing this with Vice Provost Hoppensteadt, it became clear that the intention was to say that you would not receive your stipend for the spring semester because you had not accepted your assignment. While it is unfortunate that the letter did not more clearly articulate the reasoning behind this action, it seems on the face of it to have been a fair and reasonable response to your refusal to teach. You have further argued that withholding of the entire Spring semester's stipend on the basis of an initial failure to accept a teaching assignment, it must also be said that the unit of work in a University teaching environment is a semester, not a day. One could not fairly expect the University to deny instruction to the enrolled students until your return to your assignment.


Finally, you have argued that the actions taken were applied arbitrarily and that no such actions were taken against some who may have elected not to meet their teaching assignments. I have investigated this claim carefully and found a complex answer. On the one hand, there was some evidence that several more than twenty teaching assistants had absented themselves at least once from their Spring assignments. On the other hand, it became clear that the University insisted upon a high level of confidence in its determination of which students were, in fact, fully withholding their participation as teachers. In general, the complaints from enrolled students, their parents, and classroom checks by university staff were most readily confirmed for students teaching "stand-alone" sections. Further, stand-alone sections were not uniformly distributed across departments and, thus, the students whose stipends were withheld were also not uniformly distributed across departments. I can find no evidence that the department itself or any other factor unrelated to compliance with teaching assignments played a role in the identification of students to receive administrative action.


In sum, it was my finding that the procedure on which the grieved action against you was taken was administratively appropriate and reasonable. That you did not accept a teaching assignment for the Spring semester of 2006 is, given the semester based calendar of the University, an appropriate action on the part of the University. Accordingly, I can find no basis for your grievance and it is denied.



Sincerely,


T. James Matthews
Vice Dean, GSAS
Professor of Psychology and Neural Science

Thursday, December 28, 2006

News Updates

Nerds, incidentally, are on winter break, which is why there is not much happening on the blog. But here are some news updates:

Local 94 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, the union representing maintenance staff in commercial buildings, has a contract which will expire on December 31st. They held a rally today in Midtown to call for a new contract--what they are asking for is a benefits package that does not require them to dig into their own pockets to fund their health care and pensions. The degree of organization and solidarity in this union are inspirational.

Citylimits.org announced that Governor-Elect Spitzer's appointee for Labor Commissioner, Patricia Smith, will step up enforcement against companies that take advantage of low-wage workers.

The Villager announced that Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has convened a task force on NYU issues that will have its first meeting in January. Development and community facilities issues top the list of items for discussion.

And the New York Times reports that NYU's fundraising campaigns involve Big Brother-like data collection tactics, as well as -- surprise -- Sexton's hugs.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Production Assistants' Rally

Support Parking Production Assistants and Coordinators Right to Unionize!

Thursday, December 14, 2006 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM
NBC-Universal, 30 Rockefeller Center
(West 50th Street and 6th Avenue, Manhattan)

Parking Production Assistants (PAs) and Coordinators work in the film, television and commercial production industries in New York City. There are over 300 workers and their jobs are to clear out and hold parking space at least 12 hours in advance of a location shoot to allow production equipment to be trucked in.

These workers are working on major productions in New York City, currently including 13 major prime time television and cable series programs, and over a dozen feature films and numerous commercial production jobs. One of the largest producers in New York City is NBC-Universal, which produces the "Law and Order" shows and the new hit
TV show "30 Rock" as well as other TV shows and movies. The production companies benefit from publicly funded tax breaks; they should repay our community for that benefit by recognizing the rights of their workers to unionize.

These workers are predominantly people of color – Caribbean, African-American, Latino, and Asian. A super majority have signed union cards to join the UAW and want a union and a union contract to improve their standard of living and working conditions such as those listed below:

1) Respect - Despite providing an important service to the industry, these workers are treated as an invisible workforce because they are workers of color. Many have said that they have experienced a long history of exclusion.

2) Low pay - Parking PAs get paid an average of $115 to $125 for a 12-hour shift. In order for these workers to make a living, they have to work many shifts. Some work in excess of 100 hours during the week.

3) Limited or no benefits - Workers, except a small handful, do not receive health insurance. There are no retiree benefits.

4) Raise the Level of Their Profession - PAs and Coordinators want to be better ambassadors for the industry through training and certification. They also want to help establish community standards in how production companies approach neighborhoods to improve traffic patterns and parking schemes.

5) Dangerous Working Conditions - Workers are regularly yelled at and sometimes physically harmed by community members upset about the inconveniences created by on-location shooting by production companies.

6) Basic Human Needs - In almost all cases, overnight bathroom facilities are not provided.

7) Job Security - Like other union members in these industries, these UAW members want job security by establishing industry standards for their services through an enforceable union contract.

For more information call Ted Feng at 212-529-2580

House of Delegates Results

So here we are, the results of the House of Delegates elections. The election results are actually far to long to post in the blog, as there are 50 Delegates. However, the key thing is that GSOC candidates won 37 of 50 seats, including all four at-large seats, all 26 seats in GSAS, the one seat in the institute of fine arts, and seats in Steinhardt School of Education, the Courant Institute of Mathematics, and Tisch School of the Arts. Among the seats that we did not win were those for which we did not have candidates--the dental school, the public service school, and the M.D./Ph.D. program. In none of these three schools did any candidate earn even 10 votes--showing that not only did GSOC dominate the polls, GSOC members are the ones who actually care about making this university a better place.

Monday, December 11, 2006

While We Wait, News Updates...

While we wait for the prom committee to finish tallying the votes for House of Delegates, the NYU administration uses its own fake union proposal to earn a Carnegie Commission classification as a "community-engagement university." Of course, the prom committee also claimed that the high turnout (due, of course, to GSOC's get-out-the-vote effort) proves that this structure is innovative and great. There is something to the claim of community engagement, however, as NYU students join community members to protest against the proposed "renovations" of Washington Square Park, renovations that include fencing the park in.

Meanwhile, NYU undergraduate claim that the university is biased against conservatives because their professors won't let them cite Fox News as a source of empirical evidence. Also, NYU is currently exploring plans to cut down trees on Mercer Street on city property to expand its underground co-generation plant--a move which would seem to be in some conflict with NYU's claim that it is good and green now that it spends so much on wind power.

Finally, those interested in the Colbert Report incident might want to know that Sexton did, in fact, hug Stephen Colbert--he just sneakily did so when the cameras were not running. In fact, the whole interview was originally supposed to be about Sexton's course "Baseball as a Road to G-d," but somehow that interview (which would have been much more interesting) got canned in favor of Sexton's blathering about "learning." Incidentally, the course description for Sexton's baseball course displays a curious ethnocentrism by continuing to tag Baseball as an entirely American pastime, ignoring the fact that its popularity may in fact be greater in Japan, the Dominican Republic, and other nations.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sexton on the Colbert Report

Last night, NYU president John Sexton was a guest on the Colbert Report on Comedy Central. Before each taping, Stephen Colbert warns his audience that he plays a character and that character is an asshole. Unfortunately, as was revealed on the show, Sexton does not play a character. Instead, he always talks too much, thinks he knows everything, and can't take a joke. I mean, come on, you don't go on someone else's show and make fun of the host, and you don't argue with a straw man. In addition, Sexton used the occasion to promote his new casebook rather than to promote NYU--and the ultimate job of all university presidents is to promote and fund raise for their institutions.

UPDATE: To see the interview, go to the Colbert Report archives.

Monday, December 04, 2006

House of Delegates Elections

This week, NYU graduate students vote for representatives to the House of Delegates. Nerds can't come up with a clever name for it, unfortunately--but we'll take suggestions. At least 35 candidates have officially declared their support for GSOC as part of their candidacy. Voting takes place all week; for a list of those candidates who officially support GSOC, email GSOC.

And an event listing:
This Friday, December 8th, workers at the Restaurant Daniel and the Fireman Hospitality Group mount a Justice Ride to protest segregated workplaces and to support their legal claims of discrimination. The Restaurant Workers Justice Ride will begin at Cafe Fiorello at 64th and Broadway at 5:30 and will end with a rally from 6:30 to 7:30 at Restaurant Daniel at 65th and Park Avenue. To participate, call (212) 343-1771 or just show up and see if space is available.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

And one more thing...

Goodyear tire workers are out on strike. Sign an online petition in support of the workers. And if you are in New York City this Friday, December 1st, join the workers as they protest against NASCAR outside of an awards dinner (Goodyear is the sole suppliers of tires for NASCAR).

Friday, December 1st, 5-7 PM
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
301 Park Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets
Manhattan

World Labor Updates

The New York Times reports that students and campus workers at Vanderbilt are demanding a living wage for the housekeepers, maintenance workers, and food services staff. While workers live in poverty and some become homeless, the university spend $6 million renovating the Chancellor's house.

At Purdue University, students have entered a hunger strike to protest the University's purchases of licensed products manufactured using sweatshop labor.

An appeals court has ruled that George Washington University adjuncts can unionize with SEIU. Both the court and the NLRB found that GWU had no valid claims against bargaining with the union.

And in Israel, a general strike has closed most of the public sector to protest unpaid wages and unfunded pensions.

Meanwhile, on campus, Sexton received a cut in his salary this year of 11%, dropping to the 10th highest paid university president. The Washington Square News makes the connection between this pay cut and Sexton's lies to GSOC.

Monday, November 27, 2006

On Child Care

Need something to read? The AAUP has started a blog enabling readers to comment on articles in Academe. And the PSC-CUNY Clarion for December has a great article about holiday shopping from unionized stores and manufacturers. The article also discusses the brand-new American Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers in Pensacola, FL. These drivers are fighting to be paid minimum wage and to be fully reimbursed for their gasoline expenses. If they can do it, while working two jobs and facing union-busting from a huge national corporation, so can others.

Incidentally, NYU has reserved $750,000 per year (scroll to the bottom after clicking on the link) to help administrators and faculty with the cost of child care. This is absolutely great. It is, however, another example of the ways that life inside NYU is economically unequal. NYU administrators and faculty are, in general, well-paid. Finding and paying for child care may not be easy (this is New York, after all, and NYU faculty do work long hours to conduct the research they need for tenure). But faculty and administrators are much more able to do so than staff and graduate employees. Yet staff can only receive child care subsidies by filling out an application to prove financial need, and the relevant income limitations are not publicly available.

For grad employees, the maximum subsidy is $200 a semester, and even this may be taxable, especially for international students. Assuming a super-cheap rate of $10 an hour: this means grad employees receive one week of part-time child care each semester. Sure, you can raise a child with that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Justice for Janitors? Yes, but only after hoofprints.

Justice for Janitors in Houston has just won a contract for 5,300 workers that will more than double their incomes and provide health care. As part of the strike that won them this contract, non-violent strikers were trampled by horses and arrested and held at over $800,000 bail each (the bail was eventually reduced by a magistrate judge to a more-reasonable $1,000 per striker, though even that sum is very expensive for impoverished minimum-wage workers).

The labor movement is creating the lasting images of struggle and triumph for our generation. We working people will continue to stand up and demand equality, justice, and fair treatment. And we will get it.

If only someone could unionize the horses--then they would refuse to trample strikers.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

News Updates

Nerds apologize for their long absence. Their life sometimes does include things other than GSOC. They will try not to let it happen again.

So on for some news updates:

More details on the House of Delegates are available. Among the more objectionable:
--While seats are partitioned among NYU's graduate schools, GSAS will be limited to a maximum of 26 to ensure that it can not be a majority. While law school and medical school students are not part of the electorate, MD/PhD students at Sackler are included, though they do not work for their fellowship money at any time while in graduate school.
--The HoD will not have any binding power, only an advisory role.
--Calls from the existing Graduate Student Council for the electorate to vote on the structure prior to electing members have gone ignored, while Sexton calls this body "pioneering."
--There are few safeguards to protect against vote tampering.

At least the national and NY state elections were good. Nerds know that a Democratic Congress and a Democratic NY governor will provide more political pressure on Sexton and the NYU administration to negotiate with GSOC.

Other news about the bad behavior of NYU:
--Work-study students are having their hours cut, limiting their ability to pay their tuition. The next battleground after graduate employee unionization? Unionization for undergraduate workers. (Readers should note that apparently work-study students are prohibited from talking to the Washington Square News. Now that is a repressive work regime, and it just shows how NYU treats its workers when they don't have union protection).

--NYU owns 9.3 million square feet of real estate (60 buildings) in NYC, of which 25 buildings were purchased since the 1980s--and these numbers do not include the medical and dental schools. All this NYU real estate is tax-free, depriving the city of needed money, and yet it still does not relieve the pressure of gentrification caused by students renting area apartments.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Democracy?

The Washington Square News reports that the GAC puppet government has officially been formed (though word about who is in it is not yet available). This structure claims to be democratic because it is electoral, but electoral positions will be distributed "equally of student representatives from each graduate school, department, and program"--meaning that those students who never have to work a day in their graduate student lives could be the ones making whatever puny decisions they are permitted to make about the lives of those of us who have to work for our pay.

But that's not the scariest part. The scariest part is that the WSN article notes that the GAC is a revolutionary force--ostensibly, because GAC representatives will "be able to speak directly with university officials." Um, university officials have office hours. And telephones. And make meetings. People already talk to them directly--people like the fired strikers from last year whose grievance still is not being heard. People like the Chemistry GAs who took matters into their own hands. That's what power is? That's what democracy is? Being able to "speak to officials?" Sounds like fascism to me.

While we are on the subject of democracy: this Tuesday, November 7th, is Election Day. Be sure to get out and vote--and our union, the UAW, has a website with a list of candidates they have endorsed in local and state races nationwide. These candidates have been chosen because of their records supporting the needs and rights of working people. They are the people we need as we face the most repressive climate for labor in years.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

News Roundup

Faculty at Evergreen State College in Washington State have voted to form a union that includes both full-time and part-time employees.

In Kenya, a faculty strike has shut down 5 of the 6 public universities (coverage is in The Chronicle of Higher Education; subscription required).

Finally, the GSOC Journal reported yesterday that the Chemistry action last month has paid off, with about 100 grad employees finally getting their expected pay instead of having to wait for May to receive it. Chemistry GAs say that this shows the power of collective action to resolve problems--and that, after all, is why we need a second contract.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

News Coverage in Union Publications

From New York Academe's Fall issue, the publication of the New York chapter of the AAUP (while Nerds just received this recently, it is clear it is slightly out-of-date, or maybe not based on the best reporting and editing):
The NYU Graduate Student Strike Update: Press States the Strike is Over

Press reports indicate that the strike by graduate student teaching assistants opposed to New York University's decision not to negotiate a new contract with their union has come to an end without the completion of a new collective bargaining agreement.

The student members of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee, who had been affiliated with Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers, struck on November 9, 2005.
The University, which had recognized the union in 2002, decided during the summer of 2005 not to negotiate a new contract after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) had reversed an earlier decision and held that teaching assistants at private universities were not employees under the National Labor Relations Act.

While the strike has not officially been terminated (there is no mention of the strike's current status on the union website), the Washington Square News reported that virtually all teaching assistants, including the leaders of the strike, are teaching this semester.

The graduate students have been supported by a number of NYU faculty, many of whom formed a group called Faculty Democracy, which has developed a broad agenday that includes a broader role for faculty in university governance and prioroties.
Support also came from many local politicians and union leaders. AAUP President Cary Nelson and Jane Buck, his immediate predecessor, were both arrested as part of a protest supporting the striking students.

While the strike has ended, efforts to pressure the NYU administration hto recognize the union have not. Graduate Student Organizing Committee head, Michael Palm, in an interview with insidehighered.com, said that, "We don't know exactly what our next move will be yet...But it's clear that the UAW is here to stay."

For more on the strike, go to the Union's website: www.2110uaw.org. or Faculty Democracy's website: www.facultydemocracy.org.


The October 2006 issue of The Clarion, the newspaper of PSC-CUNY, also has an article on the end of the strike--but that one is much better. It focuses on the role of retaliation, the successes we had in the petition campaign in the spring, and the tactical decision-making process.

Monday, October 23, 2006

News Updates

The Liberacion Radio Collective at the University of Illinois has produced a radio show about the GSOC struggle. At the site for the show, you can also see video of a rally they held in support of GSOC.

Faculty at Hartnell Community College in Salinas, California are striking, which they say is the first strike of California community college faculty in a quarter century. (An update on the strike is available in Tuesday's Insidehighered.com.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

News from the American Federation of Teachers

The October 2006 issue of AFT On Campus, the monthly publication of the American Federation of Teachers higher education division, just came out. It carries three stories about graduate student unionism:

  1. A story of the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions conference this August notes that the Coalition passed a reolution pleding to support GSOC.
  2. Temple University's Graduate Student Association has secured a second contract. Provisions include an average of 3% for annual raises, year-round health coverage with a choice of two health plans, better greivance procedures for workload issues, an agency-fee clause that kicks in if the union maintains at least 70% membership, and a plan to investigate child-care options.
  3. At the University of Illinois, where the Graduate Employees Union has been working without a contract for a few months, the union placed ads on billboards around campus just in time for the beginning of the academic year that point out that 30% of UI classes are taught by grad assistants. The university has announced that wages will be frozen until a contract deal is in place in a move designed to discourage grad employees from seeking a better health care deal (only 25% of premium costs are paid).


In other news, The Chronicle of Higher Education has a big article about the strike and union strategy in this week's issue. This link will work for five days from today.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

NYU's "Community Facilities?"

After the crane incident on 13th street and 3rd ave last week, elderly residents evacuated from nearby buildings sought shelter in the NYU dorm on 11th and 3rd. NYU security called the police to remove them, leaving them with only the option of walking to 17th street for shelter until 2 am. NYU receives allowances excusing it from various zoning and tax requirements because its dorms are considered community facilities. How can something be a community facility if elderly people are not even allowed to sit in the lobby after being evacuated from their homes? (Incidently, not a single NYU facility has been made accessable to the public during OpenHouseNewYork, a weekend allowing the public to see the insides of architecturally and historically significant buildings, even though NYU owns such significant buildings as the former Triangle Shirtwaist Factory and the houses on Washington Mews. Again, not community facilities.)

Nerds intend to write a post about the most recent union-busting NLRB decision whey they have a bit more time.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Fall Town Hall Meeting

So as to appear accessible and approachable, Sexton hosts at least one Town Hall meeting open to all students (graduate and undergraduate) each semester. The first Town Hall meeting of 2006-2007 was held last week. For coverage of the general issues discussed, see the Washington Square News article on the meeting.

The first interesting thing to note about this meeting is that Sexton and his student puppet government revised the format of the meeting so that attendees' questions would have to be pre-screened. Only after GSOC members objected were attendees even allowed to read their own questions at the microphone!

The second interesting thing to note is that when asked what the priorities for student government at NYU should be this year, Sexton's responses were not focused on any of the many problems internal to NYU (whether graduate employee working conditions, the financial difficulties facing undergraduates, improving academic integrety, or anything else germane to an academic institution). Instead, he avoided the question by listing his personal favorite global issues, like poverty and global warming. Now, Nerds are all for taking action against poverty and global warming, but aside from reducing the poverty of NYU students and using fewer fossil fuels on campus, there is not much the student council can do about these things.

And the third interesting thing to note is that someone finally asked Sexton why he goes around hugging people without their permission. Sexton had the audacity to claim that he does not ever hug people without their permission--when many people in the room had been so hugged! Nerds wonder why Sexton's high-priced lawyers have not told him that hugging people without their permission (or even with it, if that permission has been coerced by the power of the presidency) could constitute sexual harassment.

The Washington Square News continued its coverage of the Town Hall meeting with an editorial today suggesting that while the new format attempted at this Town Hall was inappropriate, something needs to be done to prevent "unfair manipulation by groups like GSOC." Nerds just want to take this moment to inform the unnamed authors of this editorial that GSOC members who attend Town Hall meetings attend as individual graduate students at NYU. We ask our questions as individuals. We do not have some fancy cabal prior to the meeting where we decide which questions to ask, who should ask them, and how to prevent anyone else from saying anything. In fact, at some Town Halls, there have been fewer than 10 people in attendance who are not GSOC members (including the WSN reporter!). In actuality, what is going on is that GSOC members are the people who care the most about the future of our university, the people who choose to make the time to show up and to work for a better environment for all of us.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Labor Rights Around the Academy

Rick Berry, a past president of the National Institute of Government Purchasing, claims that there is a new trend to "in-source" Janitorial staff at colleges and universities. Finally, a movement that will increase the labor rights and benefits for some higher education employees! At Florida International University, one institution who recently made such a change, wages and benefits will increase by over $10,000 a year and workers will gain union representation by AFSCME. At Brandeis, pay has increased more than $3 an hour and benefits have also been improved as part of the move to direct hiring, and this group of workers is represented by an SEIU local. And the work continues on college and university campuses across the country. It's inspiring to see the successes that these workers (and the student groups with whom they work in coalition) have had recently.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

More Rip-Offs

For those who don't follow the medical news, the FDA finally approved a vaccine for the prevention of HPV and cervical cancer over the summer. In more bad news for health care at NYU, while the health center does offer the vaccine, it is not covered by health insurance and runs a total of $456 at the Student Health Center. How are students (whether grad employees, undergrads, or professional students) supposed to afford to protect themselves against cancer?


In other news, the Wall Street Journal published an article today on city minimum wage laws. The article is really a debate between two economists, and the one opposed to city minimum wage laws provides a nice glimpse into the type of argument that suggests workers are better off making less money. But what this article really points out, which is not at all covered in the article (seeing as the commentators are economists rather than sociologists) is the fact that the limitations to citywide minimum wage laws occur because they are limited to the borders of cities. If the national minimum wage was increased to $10, WalMart couldn't just pull up and move to the suburbs; it would be forced to pay the wage to stay in business. That's why the labor movement needs to focus on national struggles rather than only local ones.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A New Year, a New Dedication

Tonight marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. During the ten days following Rosh Hashanah (which end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement), Jews go to those whom they have wronged in the past year and ask for forgiveness. This time offers the opportunity to reassess one's life and make choices about the person that one wants to be in the next year. Let us, then, take this moment to be honest about our shortcomings, but then move forward and rededicate ourselves to the pursuit of justice for all people, including ourselves.


An anonymous poster wrote a comment this morning in response to the last post which I think is really worth engaging with. This poster highlighted one of the difficulties with organizing academic labor. I am not going to quote the whole comment here, as interested readers can just click on this link, but it ends by saying "We [academics] are accustomed to judging an argument on its evidence rather than its polemics."

I agree wholeheartedly that the answers to empirical questions ought to be determined by evidence (as in most academic disciplines) rather than by rhetoric (as in law and politics). However, union organizing (as other forms of collective behavior) are not really empirical questions. What I mean is that the likely outcome of collective action is determined in large part by how many people are mobilized to participate and how strong their committment to the cause is. If each person needs to be convinced individually that the movement will succeed, we end up in what rational choice theorists call a collective action problem, where all actors assume that their participation will not make a difference.

That may in fact be true. But everyone's participation will make a difference. And you can not necesarily provide evidence of this, because it is something that has not happened yet. Rather, people who join the labor movement do so because they beleive in it: because they are ideologically committed to worker's rights, because they are fed up with the crappy treatment they receive from management, because they and their friends and coworkers are in this together. You can make an empirical argument about the benefits that unions bring. You can make an empirical argument about whether organizing campaigns can succeed without NLRB protections (which they can and do: look at private universities that still have unions after the Yeshiva decision, or read Dan Clawson's The Next Upsurge. But you can't make an empirical argument about the future of this campaign or the future of the labor movement as a whole.

Why? Because we simply don't know what's going to happen yet.

So join us. Don't be a collective action problem. Make the world a better place for workers. And have a sweet new year. L'shana tova.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Strike Vs. Campaign

The Washington Square News published an article today that attempts to be a post-mortem on the strike. But the article makes a big mistake: it confuses the lack of success of last year's strike for the failure of the entire campaign.

This makes no sense. The campaign is an ongoing, in fact growing in strength as more and more people become active and involved. We've gotten continual support from the UAW and we've gotten signatures on our Congressional sign-on letter. We're mobilizing for another year, a year in which we will have greater impacts, create more disruption, and hopefully win our second contract.

Furthermore, as any student of social movements or labor history will know, the fact that one campaign ends without acheiving all its goals does not mean the movement has failed. Rather, we have made a difference in the lives of some graduate employees at NYU (like those in languages who saw their teaching loads cut) and elsewhere (at the many campuses which increased benefits or negotiated better contracts to avoid entering into a quagmire like the one we created). We learned lessons for ourselves to make our campaign stronger this year, and we taught lessons to the UAW, UNITE-HERE, and other unions about the strategies and tactics to use (and not to use) when conducting union campaigns for non-traditional union members. We developed solidarity across campus that keeps us strong today.

And the article leaves a big gap in its journalistic objectivity by not taking on Tony Judt's comments. While it may be true that the UAW has sought out workers beyond its historical automaking contingency because of the shrinkage of the auto industry, that can not explain their continued devotion of resources and energies to our campaign. See, when unions are recognized by the employer, members pay dues to the union, and these dues are automatically deducted from their paychecks (yes, that's right, all us GSOCers contributed a few of our meager dollars to the union with every paycheck). The national UAW got a small percentage of those dollars. But when a union is not recognized by the employer, the national UAW no longer receives that money. In other words, at the present time, the UAW is spending money on our campaign rather than making money from us. I don't care how desperate a national union was; it would not spend money on a fight it didn't beleive in. Judt, I suppose, has not kept up on the futre of the labor movement, a future filled with knowledge and service workers like us.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Chemists Unite!

Every semester here at NYU begins with a significant number of problems with getting our paychecks. These problems include delayed paychecks, entirely missing paychecks, and paychecks for the wrong amount. Because of the history of such problems, our union contract contained a rare clause specifically requiring the University to pay us appropriately and on-time. Despite this fact, we filed greivances every year to get our pay (greivances that lead the administration to claim we filed to many greivances), and NYU lost every one and usually was forced to turn over money quickly.

This year, of course, we have no such recourse. And yet graduate student employees from a wide variety of departments have begun the year without receiving their first paychecks, which were to have been distributed this week or earlier depending on the employees' work schedules.

The most glaring offense has been in the Chemistry department, where workers ordinarily receive their first paycheck in the first week of the year because they have been working in August (unlike those in many other departments). This year, Chemistry GAs did not receive their checks. Instead, they received an email announcing that the pay they were due in this first paycheck, pay they needed for rent, food, medical expenses, and textbooks, would be divded up and provided bit by bit over the rest of their paychecks for the year. In other words, some of the pay due to the chemists in September would not be available until May, giving NYU the opportunity to earn high interest rates on other people's money.

The chemists were angry. And so they marched on the GSAS administration offices and presented a quite reasonable demand: that their pay be restored by the beginning of October, at the latest. Even that date would create considerable hardship for many GAs, including those international students who the university forces to enroll in additional ESL classes without providing tuition remission (while native English speakers who take second languages can do so for free). The chemists GSAS Associate Dean David Slocum that they were not willing to wait and take their chances with the "interm greivance procedure," as other GSOC members have been winding their way through the procedure for 6 months without receiving any results. And we will see what happens next.



Thought NYU housing was expensive before? NYU has abandoned some of the lowest-cost housing (at less than $900 a month) and instead created a new housing option at $2,000 a month. For the 2-bedroom apartments in this building, NYU is now raking in $4,000 a month total. Given what the Washington Square News calls the "notoriously small" spaces in these apartments--rooms are 8x10 or smaller and do not fit beds larger than twin--NYU is clearly engaging in above-market-rate price gouging.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Picket Lines in Michigan

Cary Nelson has an article in Insidehighered.com on the faculty strike at Eastern Michigan University; it is a worthwhile read.

Meanwhile, an article in the first issue of the academic year from the Pennsylvania Independent highlights the great vulnerability of master's students at NYU without a union contract.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sexton and 9/11

On the first of September, John Sexton sent an email message via NYU's mass mailing system to all members of the NYU community. This message was a welcome message of sorts, a message celebrating some of the incredible research conducted at NYU and some of the expensive initiatives the university has pursued of late. It did not, however, mention a single thing about graduate students or graduate employees. The list of research projects Sexton celebrated are all credited to the efforts of faculty and faculty only, including projects that have clearly involved the work of many graduate employees, advisees, or co-authors, such as those on foreign aid from the economics department or climate change modeling from the Courant Institute. The message also celebrates the new spaces that have recently been created or soon will be for anti-strike departments like economics and philosophy while leaving out new spaces for more involved departments like sociology. And finally, as an institution deeply committed to undermining the rights of working people across the board, Sexton closes the message by wishing the NYU community a happy Labor Day weekend.

But those are just normal acts of mystification on the part of the NYU administration. They are not the things that make this message so troubling. What is troubling is Sexton's decision to insulate himself from criticism by focusing his thoughts on 9/11 instead of on something authentically about NYU. He claims that NYU's response to the 9/11 attacks has been "a commitment to free speech and exchange, through a willingness to be open-minded, and through intellectual rigor." Now, we all know NYU not to be so open-minded. But the message goes further. It claims for NYU a place in the pantheon of 9/11 heroes, a place NYU does not deserve.

In fact, this message does not go far in explaining why Sexton claims this place for NYU. But another message sent on September 5th does. The ostensible purpose of this second message is to invite members of the NYU community to 9/11 memorial ceremony and exhibition, an event I am glad NYU is holding and which I am glad it has seen fit to notify community members about. But the details of the event are buried deep in the message, following Sexton's attempts to claim greatness for NYU in the wake of 9/11. He does point out that students volunteered time, faculty volunteered intellectual responses, and many community members opened their homes to other community members displaced from NYU dorms. But he says more.

Sexton writes, in his 9/11 message, that "the surging sense of community so evident at NYU at that time was one of the proudest moments in my 25 years at the University."

I'm glad Sexton appreciates that which NYU community members did do in those terrible days. But it pained me deeply to see this statement. It pained me for so many reasons, which is perhaps why it is a week later as I write this response. But I will stick with only 2, as this post is long enough already.

First, while the response of some members of the NYU community to the tragedy may have been compassion, action, and maybe in a very few cases even heroism, the response of NYU as an institution was not. Leaving aside some of the work of NYU's medical facilities, social workers, and other professional degree programs, the main response of NYU was to be sure its own were secure, and then to hold a lot of forums to discuss the implications of the attacks. Perhaps exactly what one would expect a university to do. But not anything particularly worth remarking on now, 5 years later, when (depending on your political position) somewhere between 3,000 and 125,000 people are dead who might have been alive but for that moment.

Second, and most galling, is the fact that Sexton apparently views 9/11 as a moment to celebrate with pride, rather than as a tragedy to mourn. Even for those who did heroic things in response to 9/11, what we should feel is a deep regret that such heroism was called for. We should never, as Sexton does, use the anniversary of the attacks to turn our attention away from the pressing problems of today by pretending that they were a "proud moment" to be remembered so gladly and gratefully

So instead of remembering what Sexton does, please take a moment this Monday to remember in whatever way you see fit (whether by observing a moment of silence watching the shinning Towers of Light or by attending a communal memorial like the one at NYU) that people died on that day and that people continue to die every day because of the willingness of so many to look for responses to 9/11 besides that of mourning the people that died and working to keep our world a place that they would have recognized. Sexton, one of my deepest wishes is that you never would have had an occasion to feel that pride.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Big Media

Corporate media and corporate education do so like to scratch each other's backs--as can be seen by New York Times reporter Karen Arenson's article, which could be called a jubulant elegy for the strike. Weapon of Class Instruction posted a takedown of Arenson and the Washington Square News, so no need to rehash here.

Insidehighered.com does slightly better on the complex-o-meter, following up yesterday's article on the end of the strike with a peice today that actually explores some of the hurdles that have made this fight so difficult. The peole who write comments, as always, are quite lacking in their understanding. Nerds particularly appreciate an anonymous poster at 10:05 AM who thinks that the "truth" about whether or not we work is synonymous with the law about whether the NLRB sees us as workers. Anonymous clearly needs to learn a bit more about how law-making works. Other less-pathetic articles include a post on The Chronicle of Higher Education's "News Blog," which at least includes some history, and a Villager article that includes a mention of the health benefit cuts.

In fact, a few other local news outlets, while still lacking the attention to detail of Insidehighered.com, still do better than the Times (perhaps because they all printed the same article from the Associated Press instead of doing their own reporting): see 1010WINS radio, The Staten Island Advance, WNBC TV, Newsday, and NY1.

So why is the coverage today more intense than at almost any time during our campaign (except for the first day or two of the strike)? Because media corporations themselves are working hard to find ways to rid themselves of unionized workers and thus have quite a lot in common with NYU. For a bit of background on the struggles of media unions, an article from Media Alliance may be of interest.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Health Care in the New Year

Without a contract, NYU can make whatever changes it wishes to our working conditions and our compensation. Of course, it did this when we had a contract as well, but then we filed greivences and could address these issues. So what new problems have we encountered at the start of this academic year? Like for workers all across the country, NYU has reduced health care benefits for graduate employees. Changes include:

  • Perscription co-pays for many drugs have increase to $45 a month (which is in an increase of 30% from last year and 125% from 2 years ago). This means an out-of-pocket cost of $540 a year for those taking just one medicine.
  • Specialty services now require co-pays; they did not previously.
  • Many diagnostic tests, including some important screening tests for sexually transmitted diseases, are no longer fully covered. Copays have increased from nothing to 20% for radiological services like x-rays, mammograms, and MRIs.

In fact, some of these changes took place over the summer and without notice, leaving graduate employees with unexpected medical debt.

Those affiliated with NYU might be aware of a change in on-campus health services reducing costs for some services obtained at the NYU student health center. The propganda sent out by NYU suggested that this change was made to better compensate their beloved graduate students. But don't be fooled. This change helps traditional-aged undergraduates who live on campus and does nothing for many graduate employees. Why? First of all, because it results in increases rather than decreases in costs for those who must seek their treatment off-campus because they live far from NYU's health center. Secondly, it does not improve coverage for many services that are more important for older students, including dependant-care coverage (NYU's on-campus health center is not fully staffed with pediatricians) and more complex specialty care. And finally, it was not in effect over the summer, when many graduate students seek to schedule health care needs so as to avoid interfearing with work responsibilities during the summer.



GSOC invites supporters to join us on Saturday, September 9th in the Annual New York City Labor Day Parade. GSOCers will be marching in the UAW contingent, which will assemble on West 47th Street between 6th and 7th avenues at 2:45 PM.

News Updates, Within and Beyond NYU

The Washington Square News has resumed publishing for fall; today's issue contains coverage both of GSOC actions as fall begins and of the dorm controversy.

This summer has also been a busy time for union efforts across higher education. Eastern Michigan University faculty remain on strike, and the university intends to hire scabs to teach the classes. According to Aft On Campus, the magazine of the American Federation of Teachers higher education division, graduate employee unions at the University of Oregon and the University of Illinois-Chicago now have contracts, and adjunct faculty at Northern New Mexico Community College have voted to organize a union.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

GSOC, and NYU, in the News

The July-August 2006 issue of Academe, the magazine of the American Association of University Professors, has an article by Cary Nelson and Jane Buck about the experience of getting arrested at the April 27th rally. The print version of the magazine also carries a great photo of GSOCers and GSOC placards on Washington Square North.

Meanwhile, The Villager has a new story about the 12th street dorm lawsuit, with lots more detail than prior coverage.

Friday, September 01, 2006

GSOC Orientation

GSOCers staffing tables at the orientation sessions for new TAs signed up dozens of new GSOC members this week. In some disciplines, second-year graduate students who are now first-year employees were excited to be part of the bargaining unit demanding a contract. In other disciplines, new TAs are also new graduate students and were excited to find out about GSOC in the first place.

In news elsewhere on the academic unionism front, faculty at Eastern Michigan University are on strike starting today.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More on the Dorm Lawsuit

Judge Edward Lehner of the New York State Supreme Court beleives that the NYU dorm on 12th street may be illegal. The case is pending before both the Court and the city's Board of Standards and Appeals. Read all about it in The New York Sun.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Since Nerds have been away...

There have been few posts. But the academic year is about to start, and the coming week will feature some of the first GSOC actions in a while. So our loyal readers will know what's what, we'll let you know that as the year begins we will not be on strike. This is primarily because the turnover the bargaining unit is so large each year (probably about a quarter of workers are replaced) that last year's strike authorization vote would no longer have legitimacy. Our pressure campaign continues, however, as we work to organize the group of brand new employees who start work over the next two weeks, and we expect exciting things to happen this semester.

As for the dorm scandal referred to in the last post? A lawsuit has now been filed against the developer, Hudson Co., charging it with violation of zoning laws. The plaintiffs in the case include many local residents, and GSOC is involved with supporting the lawsuit.

Insidehighered.com features an article on the annual conference of the Coalition of Graduate Employees Unions. It talks of the fact that many groups attending the conference have pledged to dedicate time and resources to our struggle during the 2006-2007 year--because, as GSOCers have been saying from the beginning, the fight for a union at NYU is not only about us--it's about all universities.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Living at NYU

NYU has made Business Week's list of the top ten priciest dorms in the United States. And to make it more expensive, they are working on constructing a 26-story dorm in the heart of the East Village that is opposed by hundreds of community members and neighboors. In fact, it is likely that the dorm is in violation of zoning laws due to its improper aquisition of air rights from the historic post office next door.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Spreading the Word


As the summer comes to a close, Nerds want to highlight the ways in which the word is being spread about GSOC:

Monday, July 24, 2006

More Trouble for Academic Unions at Private Universities

Insidehighered.com reports that the administration at Quinnipiac University, a private university in Connecticut with a history of three decades of faculty unionization, has moved to decertify its faculty union. Private universities have been legally allowed not to recognize faculty unions since 1980, when Yeshiva University faculty attempted to unionize, and many private universities moved to immediately decertify faculty unions in the wake of that ruling. But even after waiting three decades, during which relations between faculty and administration were "generally collegial," the administration is now using the same language we are familiar with about how unions "create an 'adversarial structure and culture.'" The rest of the article discusses the efforts by the AFT to get Quinnipiac to back down.

Read the article and you'll get a bonus mention of GSOC--since we are, of course, the exemplar of this strategy.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Summer issue of The Clarion, the award-winning newspaper of PSC-CUNY, carries a photo taken just before the arrests in April.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

News Update

Last week marked the 70th Annual United Auto Workers union convention, held in the union town of Las Vegas. GSOC members were there in their roles as voting delegates of Local 2110, and they got to hear a speach by UAW president Ron Gettelfinger in which he mentioned our struggle as one of five out of over 100 strike situations in the last four years. Read more about Gettelfinger's speach at Axcess News.

Elsewhere in academia, adjunct faculty at Marymount Manhattan have voted 95-23 to form a union affiliated with NYSUT. Higher education remains at the forefront of contemporary unionization efforts--remember, GSOC is the future.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Update on Janitors at U of Miami

The janitors at the University of Miami voted to join SIEU this week. At least 60% voted in favor; the American Arbitration Association stopped counting at that point. This comes after a 9-week strike and a campaign involving students, faculty, and others, as Nerds have previously reported. Read more from The Orlando Sentinal.

Friday, June 09, 2006

How You Can Help GSOC During Summer Vacation

Nerds know our trusty readers have not been getting very much news lately--that's because NYU is on summer vacation and GSOC's picket-line action is in "recess." After all, pretty much all the summer positions at NYU for graduate student employees are actually not represented by GSOC (most summer teaching, for instance, is paid as an adjunct job). But that doesn't mean our campaign is at a standstill. Here are some things you can do to help:

1. Ask your congressperson to add his or her signature to the open letter to Sexton. While you are at it, forward the information about the letter to your friends and relatives across the country--it will only take a minute for them to send letters, and the more signatures we get (especially from out-of-the-way places) the better. But send it to local representatives as well--they should know that tons of their constituents value their support of GSOC.

2. Don't forget about the sign-on letter from Senators Clinton and Schumer. Ask you senator to sign it, and send it to friends and relatives across the country so they can ask their own senators for a signature. If you are in New York State, write to Clinton and Schumer and tell them how much you appreciate their support of GSOC.

3. Donate to the Strike Fund. Local 2110 did a great job funding GSOCers who were not paid this spring, but remember that pay cuts will continue in the fall and the strike fund needs time to build itself up so GAs can be funded then. Additionally, some GSOCers were denied employment this summer because of their union activism--a tactic on the part of NYU's administration which would be considered an unfair labor practice if we still were recognized by the NLRB.

4. Spread the word about NYU Exposed, the website that tells alumni and others about the corrupt inner workings of NYU. On the website, you can sign up for updates.

5. Are you an NYU alumn or current student at any of NYU's schools? Then write to the alumni giving representative for the school from which you graduated or will graduate and pledge not to donate even one cent to the university until it negotiates a new contract with GSOC. This makes a bigger difference than you might think--university rankings systems like US News incorporate the alumni giving rate into the rankings they compute, and this has traditionally been one of NYU's weak spots in the rankings. While you are at it, forward a copy of your email to Sexton.

6. Make sure to keep reading Nerds and keep telling your friends and aquaintances all the dirt on NYU.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Union Victory in UK

A grade strike in the United Kingdom has come to an end
with a tentative agreement that will raise wages 13.1% over three years for lecturers and 15.5% for non-academic university staff.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

"Taking the AAUP Downtown"

An excerpt from a longer article about Cary Nelson from The Chronicle of Higher Education (paid subscription or on-campus computer required to view the entire article):

On Thursday, two days after "the Eighteen Wheeler" breakfast, Mr. Nelson got arrested.

It happened in New York, where he had traveled with Jane Buck, departing president of the association. They were there to attend a rally in favor of union recognition for graduate teaching assistants at New York University. The rally began at nearby Judson Memorial Church, where Mr. Nelson gave a fiery speech denouncing NYU. Then he and Ms. Buck went outside and sat in the middle of the street with about 50 striking graduate students, at which point the police arrested them all, put them in vans, and sent them downtown for processing.

Since graduate students at NYU began striking for union recognition, in November 2005, several of the major national union bosses had gone to the campus, many of them to get arrested. The AAUP was different, though. None of the association's presidents had ever gotten booked for acts of civil disobedience. The whole enterprise made Ms. Buck and Mr. Nelson giddy. "It's just the right thing to do," she said before getting locked up.

Breaking with AAUP form was Mr. Nelson's idea, of course. The minor audacity of the gesture was delicious to him. Before the rally, he said he could picture some of his AAUP colleagues "fainting dead away" at the thought of his and Ms. Buck's "being carried away in a paddy wagon."

As it turned out, no one swooned. Roger W. Bowen, general secretary of the AAUP, runs the association's main office, in Washington. In the days following the rally, he says, he received a fair number of e-mail messages about the arrests, hardly any of them expressing dismay. "The communications to my office were, with one exception, quite positive," he says, "and a number of former members who had let their membership lapse said that they would be rejoining."

In a couple of ways, the NYU rally exemplifies Mr. Nelson's vision for the AAUP. First, he hopes the group will start paying more attention to graduate students. Under his watch, he hopes, it will craft "a more elaborate statement on graduate-student rights, procedures, and responsibilities," he says. The concern for teaching assistants is not at all out of character for Mr. Nelson; he is a longtime advocate of graduate-student collective bargaining and has written extensively on the subject.

More generally — and this is a larger break from form for the AAUP — he also wants to inch it toward being more interventionist. The association typically throws its moral weight into an issue only after it has had the chance to conduct a thorough and neutral investigation, and only after there is a "body" — meaning that a conflict has come to a head and someone has gotten hurt. Mr. Nelson thinks there are some instances where the AAUP's principles are so clear, and where violations are so unambiguous, that condemning them should not take months of investigation.

He thinks NYU is a good example. AAUP policy says all campus employee groups should have the right to decide whether they want to bargain collectively. NYU has taken that decision away from its teaching assistants, Mr. Nelson says; hence the AAUP has every reason to stand publicly against the university, without further discussion.

(Of course, the legal debate over TA unions has hung for years on this semantic snag: Are teaching assistants employees, or just apprentices with no bargaining rights? So far, every private university that has faced graduate-student unionization has categorized them as apprentices.)

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Front Page News: New York AAUP Newspaper

In the Spring 2006 edition of New York Academe, the newspaper of the New York State Conference of the American Association of University Professors, we are front-page news. See below for full text.

AAUP Leaders are Arrested in Civil Disobedience Action
Protesters sit down for what they stand for. AAUP president Jane Buck and president-elect Cary Nelson were arrested

On April 27 in New York City, Buck and Nelson were detained by police for their participation in an act of civil disobedience.

They joined more than 50 other protesters to demonstrate their support for striking graduate assistants at New York University.

The strike, which began during the fall semester, has continued as the NYU administration has persisted in its refusal to negotiate with the union following a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision that graduate student employees were not covered by the National Labor Relations Act.

The administration then allowed a collective bargaining agreement between the University and the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/Local 2110 UAW to lapse.

Buck stated AAUP's position on the key issue. "It is the policy of the American Association of University Professors," she said, "that graduate assistants, like other campus employees, should have the right to bargain collectively. Under no circumstances should they be subject to retaliation for their collective bargaining activity."

Cary Nelson, addressing a group of students and labor leaders at New York's Judson Memorial Church, called the action "a watershed moment in the struggle for employee rights."

He further noted: "The NYU administration has recklessly maximized the tension with its graduate employees. Those of us who support them must now stand our ground or there will be no ground left on which to stand."

He called upon the NYU administration to negotiate a contract with the graduate assistants and to recognize the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/Local 2110 UAW, the graduate students' democratically affirmed and legal choice of union representation.

Nelson and Buck were charged with disorderly conduct for blocking the street in front of the Washington Square Arch before the NYU administration building. They will appear in court at a future date yet to be specified.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Sign On Letter for U.S. Representatives

Jerrold Nadler, Congressman from New York, 8th District, has written an open letter to the United States House of Representatives, asking his colleagues to sign on to a letter to John Sexton calling for negotiations between NYU and our union. GSOC supporters can aid in this effort by calling or emailing their representatives and urging them to sign.

Nadler's letter follows a similar letter from New York Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, urging all US Senators to sign a letter to Sexton demanding negotiations. GSOC supporters can also urge their Senators to sign this letter.

We encourage all GSOC members and supporters to encourage friends and relatives across the country about these legislative letters, as they are an effective way to keep pressure building on NYU to negotiate over the summer.

The text of the Dear Colleague letter from Nadler to the House is below, followed by the sign-on letter to Sexton.

Dear Colleague:

Graduate employees at New York University, members of GSOC/UAW Local 2110, have been on strike for a second contract since November 9, 2005. At issue are wages, hours, benefits and a meaningful grievance resolution procedure. But, more fundamentally, the dispute is about the right of employees to have a representative of their own choosing.

Graduate employees at NYU voted to join the UAW in 2000, pursuant to an NLRB decision applying the National Labor Relations Act to graduate employees. In 2002, the UAW and NYU signed a collective bargaining agreement – the first ever union contract for graduate employees in a private university. This landmark agreement improved wages, benefits and working conditions, while at the same time preserving the University's exclusive right to determine all academic matters.

At the expiration of the agreement in August 2005, however, the University withdrew recognition of the union, and has since refused to negotiate with GSOC/UAW over the terms of a second contract. NYU has sought to hide behind a flawed and highly controversial decision by the NLRB, newly stocked with Bush appointees, reversing an earlier decision, and holding that graduate employees are not entitled to the protections of the National Labor Relations Act. But, as NYU has admitted, nothing in this NLRB decision or in the law prohibits the University from continuing a collective bargaining relationship with the graduate employees' designated representative.

Graduate employees have consistently demonstrated majority support for the union, including, in the last year, signing petitions calling for negotiations, demonstrating, engaging in civil disobedience and striking in an effort to secure a second contract.

The work of graduate employees is central to the educational mission of the University. These employees teach an estimated eighty-five percent of undergraduate classes in the core curriculum. The work of graduate employees is valuable, and the University should value it by negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with their designated representative.

The University's conduct refusal to negotiate has been soundly condemned by all stakeholders in the community: students, faculty, civil and human rights activists, the greater labor movement and elected officials.

The University has an opportunity to resolve this dispute by negotiating an enforceable contract with GSOC/UAW. Permitting the conflict to carry over to the next academic semester is irresponsible, and at odds with the University's obligation to pursue educational excellence.

We ask you to stand with graduate employees and their elected representative, GSOC/UAW, by signing the attached letter calling for the NYU administration to resolve the dispute by negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the union. For further information, please contact Lisette Morton in my office at 202-225-5635.

Sincerely,

Jerrold Nadler
Member of Congress


Dear President Sexton:

As elected officials, we wish to express our strong support for the graduate employees at New York University, members of GSOC/UAW Local 2110 who have called upon the NYU administration to engage in negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.

Graduate employees perform valuable work for the University and are entitled to have the work valued accordingly.

The NYU administration's refusal to bargain with the union relies on the flawed 2005 NLRB decision holding that universities are not obligated under the National Labor Relations Act to bargain with the representative of graduate employees. But as the NYU administration has admitted, nothing in that decisison or the law prevents NYU from maintaining a collective bargaining relationship with GSOC/UAW.

As we look to the next academic year, we call upon the NYU administration to resolve the campus conflict by respecting the will of the majority and negotiating an enforceable second contract with the employees' designated representative, GSOC/UAW.


Sincerely,

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Political Pressures and Real Estate

A Letter to the Editor in Sunday's New York Times:

In "Pomp and Altered Circumstances" (May 14), Michael J. Agovino notes that New York University is no longer the commuter school he attended 15 years ago. Most of N.Y.U.'s undergraduates now come from out of state, necessitating what Mr. Agovino calls the university's "relentless expansion," replacing historic buildings with architecturally lifeless dorms that dwarf surrounding neighborhoods and infuriate neighbors.

However, N.Y.U.'s plans to engulf more real estate may be stymied by politicians who have pledged support for the university's striking graduate teaching assistants. Graduate assistants normally teach about 75 percent of classes for the undergraduates housed in those outsize dorms, but have been on strike since November 2005 after N.Y.U. refused to negotiate a new contract with their elected union.

If Senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, State Senators Thomas Duane, Eric Schneiderman and Dale Volker and other lawmakers can translate their support for the union into action, N.Y.U. may have less luck when it next applies for building permits, zoning variances, financing and other forms of public assistance.

David Schleifer
East Village
The writer is a graduate student at N.Y.U.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

All About Ehrenreich

An article in The Hook, a weekly newspaper from Charlottesville, VA, has published a profile of Barbara Ehrenreich in which Ehrenreich had to reschedule her interview because she was on her way out the door to come speak at our rally.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Catherine Stimpson: Feminist? Or Reactionary?

Nerds, along with the rest of GSOC, tend to save our personal take-downs for John Sexton, NYU president and cheif union-buster, and the billionaires for union-busting who are the NYU trustees. But these are not the only members of the NYU administration who deserve to be taken to task. Like Sexton (who contradicts the Catholic teachings he supposedly holds dear by refusing to acknowledge our right to bargain collectively), Catharine Stimpson is an NYU administrator who has bought into the power structure she is a part of and has thus become an intellectual hypocrite.

Stimpson, some readers may recall, coupled her general distaste for academic unionism in a June 2004 Chronicle of Higher Education article with the observation that "when unions arise and thrive, institutions may have given them reason to do so." GSOCers have seen Stimpson's name on many of the open letters and fake-union proposals that have crossed our desks in the last year, but we have not seen her stand up and admit what it is that NYU has done to give us "reason to do so." She also admitts the truth of many of the critiques that GSOCeers make of the contemporary university in general and NYU specificially--such as the fact that universities are factory-like and teach simply to get tuition dollars.

So why is Stimpson not a defender, not even a grudging tolerator like Alan Sokal, but rather a dedicated member of the union-busting administrator's sqaud?

Well, let's start with her background and see what we can figure out. Stimpson went to college at Bryn Mawr after growing up in Washington State. Her own stories of her past suggest that as a young person, she was interested in exploring the new, the radical, and ther rebellious. She has always been interested in interdisciplinary studies and in questions of power, and after earning her undergraduate degree she went on to earn degrees at Cambridge and Columbia. Her professional experience prior to coming to NYU has included stints at the MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program, Rutgers University, Barnard College, and a term as president of the the Modern Language Association.

Nerds don't see any clues here. Work in women's studies usually sensitizes one to issues of power and privilege. So why doesn't Stimpson get it?

Let's turn to her own words. (The quote is from her chapter in Women in Higher Education, edited by Glazer, Bensimon, and Townsend).

"First, women's studies has sought a particular ethic that values the fredom and the moral equality of all those who seek education and of those who offer it. Women's studies has promised that such an ethic will enhance education, not smash it to peices. Second, women's studies has sought to alter institutions so that they embody such an ethic....Third, women's studies has sought to change consciousness--that of individuals and that of institutions....It has meant a constant, serious, deepening awareness of sets of problems and ideas about women....Women's studies confronts vociferous forces that wish to efface some of its energetic deeds, that wish to crib, cabin, and confine its energizing future. Women's studies has shown its capacity for wild patience, a capacity necesary for survival and moral rejuvenation...."

Let's rewrite that, talking about academic labor issues instead of academic feminism:
The academic labor movement has sought a particular ethic that values the freedom of association and the moral equality of all those who seek education and of those who offer it. The academic labor movement has shown time and again that this ethic will enhance education, not smash it to peices. The academic labor movement has also sought to alter institutions of higher education so that they emody such an ethic. It has also sought to change the consciousness of individuals and institutions so that we all understand that work is being done within the ivory walls. The academic labor movement has meant a constant, serious, deepinging awarness of sets of problems and ideas about work in higher education. Academic labor confronts vociferous forces that wish to efface some of its energetic deeds, that wish to crib, cabin, and confince its energizing future. Academic labor has shown its capacity for wild patience, a capacity necessary for survival and moral rejuvanation, in spite of the continual crushing pressure placed on it by administrators and elites that include the writer of the words this paragraph is based on.

So Stimpson is clearly capable of understanding oppression and the fight against it within the academic system. But she chooses to ignore her own understanding of power and knowledge. She chooses to maintain her position as a union-buster.

Nerds ask again--why? And the only answer is that Stimpson wants to keep her cushy job and her cushy office and make a lot of money. A real women's studies scholar would understand the ways in which collective organization is better for representing the interests of academic women. A real women's studies scholar would understand that with sexual harrassment and discrimination of all kinds still affecting women across NYU constantly, an outside grievance procedure is necesary to protect women from employment abuses--particularly given the fact that the grievance procedure supervised by Stimpson's own office is clearly a joke. A real women's studies scholar would see GSOC as a vital attempt for women AND men to stand together for justice, for freedom, and for real moral equality. A real women's studies scholar would not bust unions to increase her own paycheck.

Stimpson is a dean and a member of the power structure now. She is no longer a real women's studies scholar.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Anti-Union Faculty: Your Activities Will Come to Haunt You

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Book Prize Is Yanked From Yale Professors Over Author's Role in Graduate-Student Labor Dispute

By JENNIFER HOWARD

Two Yale University professors, Ian Shapiro and Michael J. Graetz, expected to receive a 2006 Sidney Hillman Award on Tuesday at a ceremony in New York City. Instead, they got phone calls on Tuesday morning telling them that the judges had reversed the decision to honor the professors' book on the repeal of the estate tax, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight Over Taxing Inherited Wealth.

"I was stunned," said Mr. Shapiro, a professor of political science. "I'd been about to get in the car to go to the city to pick up the award."

Mr. Graetz echoed his co-author's shock. "It came out of the blue for me," he said. "Obviously, I was disappointed."

The telephone calls came from Bruce Raynor, president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which sponsors the awards. The foundation is a project of the labor union Unite Here, of which Mr. Raynor is general president. The awards and the foundation are named for Sidney Hillman, who was a leading worker-rights activist in the New Deal era and founding president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a precursor of Unite Here.

First presented in 1950, the awards honor "journalists, writers, and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good," according to the foundation's Web site.

Mr. Raynor told the authors that the last-minute reversal had been based on information that came to light about Mr. Shapiro's dealings with members of GESO, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, in its efforts to organize a graduate-student union at Yale in the 1990s. Unite Here has been involved with GESO's continuing union drive at Yale.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Raynor cited allegations of "unfair labor practices" and unspecified "threats against graduate students" by Mr. Shapiro.

"It flies in the face of Sidney Hillman's beliefs and his life," he said, "to present the award to someone who had been actively engaged in resisting union-organization attempts by graduate teaching assistants to join Sidney Hillman's union."

Mr. Raynor added, "We wish we had had this information before the award announcement went out. We regret it, and we certainly don't seek to embarrass Professor Shapiro."

Mr. Graetz and Mr. Shapiro pointed out that the book, which was published last year by Princeton University Press, does not address labor organizing. "There is no connection to GESO at all," Mr. Graetz said. "This book has absolutely nothing to do with the graduate students."

Mr. Shapiro also defended his dealings with graduate students over the years. "In the 1990s, when I was director of graduate studies in political science, I told a group of our students that I thought they had every right to try and form a union," he said, "but in my view it was not a good idea and not a good use of their time. ... I've never threatened anyone in my life, and I'm generally supportive of unions."

The move toward rethinking the award began last week. On Thursday, May 18, the Hillman Foundation ran an advertisement in The New York Times listing the 2006 winners in several categories: book, magazine, broadcast, photojournalism, newspaper, and blog, a new category this year. Mr. Shapiro's and Mr. Graetz's book was listed as the winner in the book category.

Although Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Graetz had written "an excellent book," Mr. Raynor told The Chronicle, the decision came down to "more than just the words on the page."

Once news of the award got out, Mr. Raynor said, his office received dozens of complaints "from numerous current and former graduate teaching assistants who'd been involved in these campaigns."

"We got deluged by this information that we did not know," he said. "I brought it to the attention of the judges."

One of those judges, Harold Meyerson, editor at large of The American Prospect, said that Mr. Raynor called him on Monday and said, "Harold, we have a problem." Mr. Raynor then told him about the objections to the award but left the final decision to him and the other judges, who include Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, and Sheryl WuDunn, an editor at The New York Times.

Mr. Meyerson read a reporter the statement he delivered Tuesday night at the awards ceremony. "Normally judges evaluate the dancer, not the dance," he said. "What we tried to do in the excruciatingly limited time available to us was to gauge the severity and credibility of the allegations. ... A crucial factor for us was that the National Labor Relations Board in the region issued a complaint against several Yale professors, and Professor Shapiro most particularly, for these actions."

As Mr. Meyerson and Mr. Shapiro both noted, the labor board never adjudicated the graduate students' complaint because their labor action failed to meet certain legal criteria.

"There was never any hearing on the merits of the complaint," Mr. Shapiro said. "People like me never got to come into a hearing and say, What's the evidence that I threatened anyone?"

Mr. Meyerson said he had consulted with a friend who was a labor lawyer, who told him that "such a complaint would not have been issued if the NLRB attorneys had not found the claims to be credible and meritorious." In the end, Mr. Meyerson and the other judges concluded that "Professor Shapiro's actions rose to a level that required the rethinking of the award."

"What we came down to was that the book was eminently qualified to win many other awards," he said, but did not fit the criteria of the Hillman Prize.

"We regret of course that this highly improbable situation ever occurred," Mr. Meyerson told the awards audience. "I'm acutely aware that for all of you this comes rather like a pickle in the middle of a chocolate éclair."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Downtown Newpaper: Wrong, Right Out of the Gate

Downtown, a brand new free newspaper covering lower Manhattan, devoted the cover and much of its first issue to coverage of NYU, including a large article about the May 11 alternative commencement rally accomanied by a phot of the Sexton puppet. Nerds can not post a link to the coverage, as the publication does not appear to have a website yet. The non-GSOC coverage focuses on NYU's desirability, prestige, real estate obnoxiousness (including a plan to build graduate housing in the outer boroughs), and high sticker price.

The GSOC article, however, is quite poor and factually innacurate, and I would urge Nerds readers to write to the author, Edward-Issac Dovere and to the editor, and correct his misconceptions. The article appears below, and futher below that Nerds provide talking points for writing to Dovere.


Moments after NYU finished its 174th university-wide commencement May 11, another commencement got under way.

This mock-commencement rally was organized by graduate students who have been refusing to teach since last November in protest of the university's refusal to negotiate a new contract with higher wages for teaching.

Currently, graduate students are given a minimum $19,000 per year stiped in addition to tuition remittance and health benefits. The university has already decided to increase this stiped by $1,00 in each of the next three years. But as at several other universities around the country, some of these students have sought to unionize and join the United Auto Workers.

"We are leading America, we are leading NYU, and we will lead it to a better place than it is now," said Julia Schleck, a leader of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee who was awarded her Ph.D. in English this year and will soon leave for her new position.

These graduate students have drawn support from prominent local labor leaders, including the Transit Workers Union, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), AFL-CIO and UNITE HERE, who tend to view graduate students as a potential area to grow the labor movement.

Representatives from these groups constituted at least as many of the people at the rally as NYU students did.

While most labor leader speakers stressed a general committment to workers' rights, the UFT's Randi Weingarten said that her union would use its force across the state to encourage guidance counselors to make prospective college students aware of the situation at NYU. Putting pressure on the school by possibly influencing undergraduate applications and enrollment may help leverage results, Weingarten said.

"We're going to make sure, as teacher should, that we educate everyone about what's going on here in Greenwich Village," she said.

Also speaking at the rally was Barbara Ehrenreich, the author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, among other books critical of current American labor practices.

"When a university disrespects its teachers, it disrespects learning. And when it disrespects learning, it is no longer an institution of higher learning," she said. "It is a real estate empire that has acheived non-profit status by offering some courses and doing some research on the side."

The university disagrees, arguing that teaching is a component of doctoral training, not labor in the traditional sense.

"Students are students, not employees," argued Paul Boghossian, a former chair of the Philosophy Department who has been one of the people dispatched by NYU to represent the university position.

"A student would regard it as a liability that he [Nerds interrupts this message to remind our readers that in Boghossian's old-fashioned world of graduate education, all graduate students are indeed male] could go through five or six years of doctoral training and not have to have any experience teaching," he said. "Any well structured program simply has to have that as part of its curriculum."

Boghossian said that it was principle, not funding, which was the determining factor.

"If we had all the money in the world, so we could just do away with any graduate student teaching and have all aspects of teaching in the class done by people who were expressly employed for that purpose, we still wouldn't do away with the graduate student teaching assistant program that we currently have," he said. "That would make us uncompetative."



So what's wrong with this article? Lots of things.
1. Members of GSOC have not gone on strike for a pay raise. If that was what we wanted, we got that simply by insinuating the threat of a strike. Instead, we want a contract that provides for collective bargaining over our working conditions and a fair greivance procedure with access to outside arbitration.

2. We have not "sought" to "unionize and join the United Auto Workers." We are in fact already members of the United Auto Workers who worked under a union contract with NYU for four years. We are simply asking to maintain the status quo.

3. We have not been "refusing to teach...in protest," we have been engaging in a labor action, in other words a strike.

4. NYU graduate students are in fact not required to teach in order to get their degrees. They are requried to teach in order to get paid their salaries. Many graduate students, depending on the discipline, earn money through outside fellowships, internal awards that do not require work, administrative assistantships, or research assistanships. Many never set foot in the classroom. In addition, many GSOC members are master's students, and others are doctoral candidates who are working in feilds entirely unrelated to their training. Finally, NYU would be a much more competative university if we could take Boghossian up on his suggestion to fully fund all of us without having to work. If I'd been offered that deal, maybe I'd be done with grad school already.

Nerds remind you to write to the Downtown paper and tell them that there is no point in reading their paper if they couldn't even fact-check the very first issue. Find the contact info above.