Tuesday, February 28, 2006

News Updates, and NYU's Fake Medical Emergency Fund

As per NYU's "promise" in one of it's strategic efforts to bust the union early this fall, a "medical emergency fund" has been established. This fund is supposed to assist full-time graduate students who already have health insurance and who face "unusually large" medical expenses. This fund consists of a total of $200,000--not too much given the extent of medical expenses today. In order to get money from the fund, applicants must first work with a financial aid counselor to try and get money from public assistance programs and regular financial aid. Even if an applicant manages to jump through all these hoops, the payout will only range from five to ten thousand dollars. (Incidently, the NYU student health center still thinks we have a union--see http://www.nyu.edu/nyuhc/insurance.html). How much would this help?

Well, NYU student health insurance covers only $1,000 per year of perscription drugs. A person on, for instance, antiretroviral treatment for HIV can have $30,000 per year of perscription costs. The medical emergency fund will help, of course. But it would still pay only one third of perscription costs.

The Washington Square News for today includes coverage of many fired GSOC members' successful effort to get their employment suspension reduced to one semester. However, it is important to remember that 8 graduate employees are still scheduled to be blacklisted for two semesters and that all 23 currently fired employees are in need of financial assistance--so keep up your donations to the strike fund.

You can also see coverage from NY1 of the Macy's rally that GSOC members attended on Monday. And another union campaign to watch: Sikorsky Helicopters in New Haven. Also on the general union news front, the NEA (an umbrella union for teachers) is building closer ties with the AFL-CIO. Teachers are workers, just like other workers.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

UN Report

Sexton spoke at the UN on Thursday, and GSOC members attended the event both as leafleters outside and as audience members inside. During the question and answer portion of the event, several people pointed out the fact that Sexton has displayed neither leadership nor good governance, as well as the fact that NYU is in violation of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Article 23, section 4 provides for the right to form and join trade unions, and other articles provide for the right to decent pay, reasonable working hours, health care, and the freedom to "hold opinions without interference."

Sexton announced during the panel that he would stick around for the reception that followed to discuss issues relating to the strike, but continued to show the failure of his leadership and governance by not showing up. On the other hand, other attendees at the reception were receptive to GSOC and were dismayed at the way Sexton (and the NYU administration in general) have responded to our union and our strike.

Nerds were away at a conference over the weekend. We apologize for our lack of computer access during this time. However, we did have conversations with a number of GSOC supporters from other Northeastern academic institutions during the conference.

Nerds will be joining other GSOC members to support Macy's workers at 11:30 on February 27th. If you can be in midtown at lunch time tomorrow, come and join us in Herald Square.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

GSOC Journal Updates

According to today's GSOC Journal, to date approximately 25 strikers have had their pay docked. All the more reason to contribute to the strike hardship fund. But despite the very real hardships that pay docking presents for those people who are now forced to subsit on strike benefits alone, we should not look at the imposition of pay docking as a loss. Rather, it shows that the pressure we are continuing to create is strong and that we are forcing the administration to respond. Eventually, the pressure will become too much for them to withstand.

Additionally, the American Association of University Professors has issued a new statement denouncing the NYU administration for their refusal to bargain a contract. The statement calls the docking of strikers' pay a form of retalliation that is in violation of the principles of academic freedom and proper governance.

Other examples of the power of our strike:
--Over 40 of the organizations scheduled to participate in the Public Interest Job Fair held annually at NYU's law school refused to cross the picket line and instead set up shop in the LGBT community center (and other organizations simply did not show up)
--Campus Compact has moved "Thriving through Tough Times," a conference on service learning, from NYU to Pace Manhattan in response to the strike.

Given all of the support other unions have shown to us, it's important to remember to support them in return. The union representing Macy's, RWDSU Local 1-S, has voted to authorize a strike by a margin of 98 to 2 if a contract is not agreed to by March 3rd. Macy's wants to significantly increase the cost of healthcare benefits, limit the possibility of wage increases, and force employees to push credit cards on customers to get higher pay.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sexton at the UN Thursday

Sexton will be speaking at the UN on Thursday along with the former President of the University of Jordon (also former Prime Minister of Jordon--does Sexton have presidential ambitions?) and various UN personnel. The panel discussion will take place from 2:30-5:30 at the UN. The theme of the presentation is "Dovetailing Good Leadership and Good Governance," and will include the introduction of a "leadership training" program for young diplomats and professions (see the official press release).

Nerds think that GSOC does a much better job of leadership training than the NYU administration does. At least we get to lead something in GSOC!

Anyway, let's just have a brief digression into what "leadership" and "governance" are for the UN, based on an unsystematic literature review conducted via Google.

As for leadership: though leadership as a word really just refers to the fact that someone is in charge, the United Nations University International Leadership Institute, one of the groups involved in sponsoring Thursday's panel, notes that good leadership is "guided by principles of service, stewardship and accountability."

Service, in this context, probably refers to the idea of rendering assistance to others. I suppose that Sexton is "rendering assistance" to his cronies--presidents of other private universities--and in that way could be said to be showing leadership. But he is certainly not "rendering assistance" to the members of the institution he is charged with leading. Stewardship generally means being responsible for the resources under one's control. Estimates of the dollar amount spent on legal fees alone in NYU's first attempt to bust GSOC are upwards of $4 million (sources available upon request), and who know how many tuition dollars this time have been diverted from NYU's coffers to those of Proskauer and Rose? And as for accountability, we'll come back to that below.

As for governance: the United Nations Economic and Social Comission for Asia and the Pacific defines governance as "the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented)." The same document also notes that when we talk about "good governance," we are talking about governance which "...is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law. It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of society."

Sexton's handling of GSOC, our contract demands, and our strike? Well, there has been no oportunity for participation of graduate students or faculty in decision-making with regards to GSOC. Given this lack of participation, there has clearly been no room for consensus. Particularly given the irregularities with regards to how Sexton was appointed and the lack of power that faculty had in choosing him and have in approving his actions (and the even greater lack of power felt by the rest of the community), Sexton is clearly not held accountable. Transparency? Well, we do know what the decisions are. But it is very unclear who has responsibility for what and why. Sexton is clearly not efficient, considering it took until long after spring semester started for the administration to figure out who to sanction for the strike and even when the ax fell, it fell improperly (metting out two-semester penalties to those who were supposed to receive one semester, for instance). Sexton's governance is clearly not "equitable and inclusing," nor does it make sure that the voices of the "vulnerable" and "minorities" are heard--otherwise we'd have a contract. It doesn't follow the rule of law, either, as much of the reprisals with which we have been threatened would ordinarily be considered illegal under the NLRB--even without having a union contract (more on this another day). We don't know about corruption, but given the faces on the NYU Board of Trustees, we wouldn't be surprised. And last but not least, Sexton's "governance" is clearly not responsive to the needs of his institution, which include a fair contract for GSOC and a good education for undergraduates.

In conclusion, why would the UN want to hear what Sexton has to say about leadership and governance? He clearly does not know how to practice it (especially according to the UN's own definitions), so don't listen to him preach.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Updates on Other Local Labor Struggles

In the Clarion, the monthly newspaper of PSC-CUNY, an article on the TWU strike notes that the head of the New York Central Labor Council Brian McLaughlin has suggested building a city-wide strike fund of $1.5 million, an amount which he said could be raised by a fee of just $1 for each unionized worker in New York City (isn't it great to be living in a city with so many union members?). Such a fund would give workers in every union more staying power in the event of a strike, as we would all know our benefits would last for long enough to give us the chance to win.

For more on the PSC-CUNY contract battle, see the February 16th update on negotiations. Basically, because of the Taylor Law, the CUNY administration feels just fine about bargaining in bad faith after CUNY workers have been without a contract since 2002.

Macy's workers are also fighting for a fair contract--you can support them at a labor rally on Monday, February 27th in Herald Square. You can also get involved with union campaigns across the country at Union Voice, a site giving users the opportunity to email and fax corporate and political leaders to urge negotiations and fair labor practice.

Finally, on Fridays at 6:00 PM, the Labor Goes to the Movies series of the CCNY Center for Worker Education (99 Hudson Street, 6th floor), shows films with a labor bent. For more information, contact Dania Rajendra (but don't RSVP).

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Weekly News Roundup

The NYU, Inc. information page about GSOC has been featured by French site AlterInfos.

The New York Teacher, a New York United Federation of Teachers union publication, featured a story about our strike and the pay docking.

The Washington Square News reported about a forum held as part of the General Studies Program, where Professor Miriam Frank highlighted the history of labor relations in and arount NYU.

On Friday, GSOCers picketed the Daily News headquarters, since the Daily News is owned by Morty Zuckerman, an NYU trustee. Zuckerman, though, is not only a trustee--he has also been a consistant voice against unions, including those in his own newspaper and real-estate operations. Zuckerman also beleives strongly in privatizing city services--an anti-union message if there ever was one. Other news media showed up to oogle at the spectacle (since we all know the biggest story in the news is the news itself).

In other news, many of the strikers who had previously been locked out have had their suspensions reduced to one semester--a great show of GSOC strength since the reductions come in light of a collective response to the letters on the part of sanctioned strikers. In addition, 280 faculty signed a letter protesting the sanctions. But just as this news was announced, many other strikers (a specific figure is not yet available) have also been notified that their pay will be docked going forward.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Holy Intercession



A multidenominational delegation of religious leaders (including Rev. Mark Hallinan, Society of Jesus; Imam Samer Alraey; Rev. David Dyson; Rabbi Michael Feinberg; Rev. Earl Kooperkamp; Avram Lyon, Jewish Labor Committee; and Rev. Donna Schaper, Judson Memorial Church) met with John Sexton recently, urging him to negotiate with GSOC.

Following the meeting, Rev. Hallinan sent President Sexton a letter on behalf of the delegates, in which he wrote:
The plight of graduate employees at NYU is not going to just go away. Whether it is a new upsurge of activism or a new Labor Board down the road, the matter must be resolved in some equitable manner. It is here that we are offering our modest offices to facilitate a re-opening of dialogue. We propose that you and the University leadership meet with those leaders of the labor movement whom you indicated to us that you trust, namely John Sweeney [president, national AFL-CIO], Brian McLaughlin [president, the NYC Central Labor Council] and Denis Hughes [president, New York State AFL-CIO]. We would be willing to be present at such a meeting.
President Sexton not only holds a J.D., but an M.A. in Comparative Religion and a Ph.D. in History of American Religion. Thus, he is well versed in the difference(s) between legality and morality. On which will he side in this labor dispute?

Beware the Rat

Compliments of GSOC's historian-in-residence, Eric Robinson, and written by Mike Pollack of the Times' FYI column:
The Meaning of Rats

Q. I've seen the giant inflatable rat in front of nonunion work sites and hotels that are having labor disputes. Just what does a business have to do to merit the rat, and who decides?

A. Construction and General Building Laborers Local 79 says it introduced the rat to New York about 1997, borrowing the idea from Chicago unions. Since then, other unions have bought inflatable rally rats of varying sizes, and at any time there could be more than half a dozen rats humiliating employers around the city. While unions set their own standards, Local 79's system is probably typical.

A "rat contractor" is an old phrase in construction and can refer to an employer who is not providing proper safety equipment, benefits or wages, said Richard A. Weiss, communications director for Local 79. When the union gets a complaint, if the job site isn't one the union is already monitoring, the union research department checks it with the reports all contractors are required to file with the city. The actual decision to send out one of the gray, red-eyed, snarling rats is usually made by Local 79's market development department, Mr. Weiss said.

The Mason Tenders District Council, which oversees Local 79, owns seven rats, mostly from 12 to 15 feet high but including a monster 30-footer, which is often used for high-rise sites. "We've got a whole family of them," Mr. Weiss said. Other unions can request a visiting rat. During teacher contract negotiations several years ago, and during the short strike led by the musicians' union that kept most Broadway theaters dark for four days last March in a dispute over the size of the orchestras, "they called us in," he said.
UAW Local 2110 (to which GSOC belongs) has its very own rat, as I'm sure most of you have seen outside Bobst since our strike began:

(photo courtesy of drea.mers)

And who could forget Radio City Music Hall's inflatable cat in response to American Federation of Musicians Local 802's rat during their work action last November? After a 15-day strike, both the rat and the cat came down after Local 802 and RCMH management negotiated a settlement. Locking out their musicians? Shame on RCMH! Moral of the story (and I hope you're reading this, President Sexton): DON'T MESS WITH THE RAT.

Georgetown's Bad Labor Practice

Another labor struggle in higher ed: according to the Chronicle of Higher Education*, janitors at Georgetown University (employed by a subcontractor) have conducted a card-check in which a majority signed union cards, indicating their interest in forming a union as part of SEIU. However, employers are not legally obligated to recognize unions formed through the card-check process, so Georgetown has not responded to the union in any way. The article notes that 20 Congressional Democrats have written to Georgetown to request that they do recognize the union.

Insidehighered.com reports that more than 30% of all graduate students never have a mentor in graduate school. The article also reports that black students are significantly less likely than others to receive teaching and research assistantships.

*Subscription required to view article

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The GSAS Priorities Statement in Review

The full priorities statement is available for download from the GSAS website)

The GSAS priorities statement is a short document that is issued by Dean of GSAS Catherine Stimpson every year at the beginning of the fall semester, usually in September. This document is supposed to outline some of the recent accomplishments of GSAS as an institution in the competative feild of higher education, as well as outline the projects and progress GSAS expects to make in the current year.

Well, the 2005-06 priorities statement has just been released. But it sure isn't September anymore. Instead, Stimpson chose to wait until after the beginning of the spring semester so that she could cite the GAC proposal as a form of progress in addressing graduate student problems. Of course, even Stimpson herself admitts that the GAC has responsibility for only a few main areas of graduate student life, particularly housing, healthcare, and "effective communications." We'll get back to the issue of housing a little later on, but suffice it to say that the GAC clearly is not intended to effectively address issues of working conditions, pay, position announcements, and collective bargaining that GSOC has been able to address for us. Stimpson knows this, and does not try to pretend otherwise in her Priorities statement. What she does pretend is that our union contract was a failed attempt at "academic governance" that the GAC will fix. Again, the administration shows that it refuses to see our work as work. We never asked for the ability to participate in academic governance. Research universities rarely make it possible for employees, students, OR "community members" to do so (for instance, at Harvard, it took a no-confidence vote in the university president for faculty to be granted even a minimum role in the selection of a new dean). Instead, what we ask for is the right to collectively bargain about the conditions of our labor.

But, after all, governance is only a minor point in Stimpson's statement. It merits only two paragraphs, one of which is completely given over to discussing Clark Kerr's perspective on university governance. Nerds would like to take this opportunity to point out that Clark Kerr spent many years of his profession career working in and his academic career writing about unions. He was a member of AAUP (always an advocate of collective bargaining for academic careers, if not outright unionization) beginning in 1942 and said in his 1964 book on labor relations that "The union is often viewed as a disturbing force in society; but it is also a disciplinary instrument. It sets rules of its own and joins with the employer in setting others.”

Anyway, moving on...the "priorities" that Stimpson does focus on in her statement are threefold. First, there is globalization. Second, there is interdisciplinarity. And third, there is community. We will take these priorities in order.

In discussing globalization, Stimpson suggests that GSAS seeks "to establish a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, working with the Office for International Students and Scholars and others to smooth the path for the international students who bring us their talent, promise, and perspectives." What part of being "friendly and welcoming" involves issuing threats to international students that make them afraid to demonstrate their "perspective" that they want to be represented by a union?

The discussion of interdisciplinarity is perhaps more interesting. Stimpson has her own personal interest in interdisciplinary graduate education, but Nerds assume she must know that the majority of us choose to enter a disciplinary graduate program because we would like to be educated in that discipline. So she starts small with her call for making graduate education more interdisciplinary--with pre-graduate school preperatory courses in math for the social sciences and in writing. Included in her discussion of interedisiplinarity, though, are two initiatives that are linked to our experiences as workers--the establisment of a "task force" to examine the relationship between our employment as teachers, our academic progress, and our professional development (this is the first time it has occured to GSAS that these things might be ::gasp:: related? The second is the establishment of a one stand-alone course per semester maximum for stand-alone graduate student instructors, beginning this current semester (but wait--in the Expository Writing Program, where two of the blacklisted strikers worked, this semester's assignment list still shows many people teaching two stand-alone EWP courses!). And of course, this initiative was proposed at a strategic point in our strike, meaning it may not have been won this year or any time soon without the collective action we took.

Okay, but what about community? Most of the initiatives outlined here are not too relevant to GSOC, like the establishment of a "master's college", a better orientation, and ramped-up career services. But there are two things we can comment on. First, there is the issue of housing. The priorities statement notes that from now own, residence in the Stuyvesant Town Project will be available to any entering MacCracken Ph.D. student. Well, that's actually a good thing, as housing is a perpetual trouble for all New Yorkers. It's especially important for people who are new to New York and would not be able to find housing in advance when they come here. And the students I know who have taken advantage of the Stuyvesant Town Project have appreciated their time there. But let's be honest--do we really feel great about the fact that the best thing that GSAS has offered us in this year's priority statement is the chance to spend our first year in a room with limited furnishings including a twin bed for over $600 a month (assuming a 12-month stay), and beg to be on a waitlist after that? And this program does nothing to address the housing needs which are really urgent for GSAS students--housing for couples, housing for people with children, etc.

The last point of interest in the GSAS priorities statement is the "diversity initiative." The substance of this initiative is that GSAS "will offer an additional, four-year MacCracken support line to one doctoral program that successfully recruits a minority student from one of our master’s programs." Yes. Increasing diversity by offering a MacCracken for one student. One student who came from the type of background where she or he could consider affording an NYU master's degree without the option of MacCracken support. That will surely increase diversity. One student out of about 423 doctoral degrees conferred per year.

What, then, are the priorities of GSAS? Busting a union, and wasting time putting together propaganda and "spin." If only Dean Stimpson would stop devoting so much energy to union busting, maybe she could turn her attention to priorities that would seriously elevating the working AND learning conditions for all GSAS employees and students.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Stimpson's Office Hours

Dean Catherine Stimpson holds open office hours for graduate students at 6
Washington Square North, 1st Floor, between University Place and Fifth Avenue, no appointment necesary, on the following dates:

Wednesday, March 1, 2006, 4:00-6:00pm
Wednesday, April 12, 2006, 4:00-6:00pm
Wednesday, May 3, 2006, 4:00-6:00pm

Nerds encourage GSAS students who support GSOC to go and tell her why. After all, at the Town Hall meeting, she did extend the invitation.

Stay tuned for coverage of Stimpson's GSAS Priorities Statement in coming days.

A Little Light Reading

Nerds picketed yesterday in the snow, where we were super cold.

It's Valentine's Day, so show a little love by donating some money to the strike hardship fund.

A little light reading on the history of graduate employee unionization at NYU (you may need to be connected through a library or academic institution to access these articles):

--if you are interested in the administration's use of language that charectarizes us as "not-workers," an article in The Radical History Review chronicles the history of this language back to the 1970s

--Stimpson, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2002 says that she understands one attraction to graduate student unionization--the fact that cross-disciplinary solidarity is built--and offers an alternative non-union model for building such solidarity: more interdisciplinary general education courses staffed by graduate student workers

--If you haven't read it yet, the text of the original NLRB decision clearly states that "there is no basis to deny collective-bargaining rights to statutory employees merely because they are employed by an educational institution in which they are enrolled as students." The language, while of course legalese, provides a great understanding of the fact that we are workers AND students.

Monday, February 13, 2006

WSN Op/Eds from NYU Grad Students

Sanctioned GSOC striker Matt Osypowski has a terrific Op/Ed in today's Washington Square News. He sheds some personal light on the strike, and attempts to disabuse readers of a number of commonly held misconceptions about who GSOCers are, what we're fighting for, and why.

He also manages to get in a few nice digs to Alessandro Miglio, a frequent (now there's an understatement!) anti-union commentator on the WSN website. For those of you interested in reading Mr. Miglio's witless sexist drivel, um...I mean, published opinion on GSOC, click here.

(For the record, I would give my left arm for Dean Stimpson's feminist reading of Miglio's unenlightened metaphors. Strange bedfellows, indeed.)

Behind the Bureaucratic Veil

Nerds recently acquired proof (proof!) that Senior Vice Provost for Planning, Frank Hoppenstaedt, is an actual person. Behold, Dr. Hoppenstaedt:

This outing of the administration has been brought to you by Zach. Nice detective work, Zach!

(For those of you confused by this post, get yer backstory here.)

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Contact the NYU Trustees and Ask Them to Bargain in Good Faith

The Officers of the Board of NYU Trustees are men (yes, all men) with important professional positions. They do not want to be disturbed at work by GSOC supporters asking them to tell John Sexton to bargain with the union. But they will hear from us.

If you write to or call a member of the Board of Trustees, remember to stay breif, polite, and on message. Tell them that NYU's reputation is suffering because of Sexton's refusal to sit down at the bargaining table. Appeal to them as intelligent and successful men who have the resources to end this strike by choosing to negotiate with the union.

Here find contact information for them:

Chairman of the Board Martin Lipton of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz: email him at MLipton@wlrk.com; call him at 212.403.1200 (these appear to be direct to Lipton).

William R. Berkley of the W.R. Berkley Corporation: direct contact information does not seem to be available. You can contact the company and ask them to forward on your complaint. The phone number is 203.629.3000, the mailing address is 475 Steamboat Rd. Greenwich, CT 06830, or you can submit an electronic comment.

Laurence D. Fink of BlackRock, Inc: direct contact information does not seem to be available. You can contact the company headquarters and ask them to forward on your complaint. The phone number is 212.810.5300 and the mailing address is 40 East 52nd Street, New York, NY 10022-5911.

Kenneth G. Langone of Invemed Associates, LLC (who is implicated in a New York Stock Exchange scandal: direct contact information does not seem to be available. You can contact the company headquarters and ask them to forward on your complaint. The phone number is 212.421.2500 and the mailing address is 375 Park Ave., Ste. 2205, New York, NY 10152.

Larry Silverstein of Silverstein Properties: direct contact information does not seem to be available. You can contact the company headquarters and ask them to forward on your complaint. The phone number is 212.490.0666, and you can send an email at info@silverprop.com.

Anthony Welters of AmeriChoice Corporation: direct contact information does not seem to be available. You can contact the company headquarters and ask them to forward on your complaint. The phone number is 703.506.3555 and the mailing address is 8045 Leesburg Pike, 6th Fl. Vienna, VA 22182.

Leonard Wilf of Garden Homes Development and Wilf & Silverman (a law firm): direct contact information does not seem to be available. The firm is small, however, so if you contact them directly Wilf (or someone he's related to) will probably see it. The phone number is 973.467.0300 and the mailing address is Suite 201, 820 Morris Turnpike, Short Hills, NJ 07078-2619.

GET-UP, the union of grad employees at UPenn, has a great page summarizing the economic and occupational standing of NYU trustees, if you want more information.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Friday News Updates

The New Standard features an article about NYU's strike-busting tactics, which would be illegal were it not for the Bush NLRB.

The Washington Square News covers Faculty Democracy's petition asking for the reinstatement of blacklisted strikers. It's worth reading the comments: Bhegossian tries to take the reporter to task for misquoting him, but ends up seeming his usual Sexton-spouting self.

The Scoop, a news website from Australia, posted news about our strike (you have to scroll down a bit to see it).

Nerds readers are also welcome to check our the Wikipedia entry on GSOC and help make sure it is complete and up-to-date.

On the covering other labor struggles front, Nerds have been told that the new Balducci's on 14th street and 8th ave might be hiring non-union workers. 96% of supermarket workers in New Jersey are unionized, and though Nerds can't find the numbers for NYC at the moment, we assume it to be comparable (we know workers at Met Foods and Stop & Shop are unionized). We were handed a flier in front of Balducci's encouraging us to call Balducci's at (212) 741-3700 to encourage them to uphold fair labor practice, or contact UFCW Local 1500 (1-800-522-0456 ext 250).

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Town Hall Meeting Wednesday: If We're a Virus, Get Ready for Drug Resistance

Yesterday, Nerds attended the GAC town hall meeting, and will now file a report on the proceedings.

The event began with brief introductions by Christine Scott-Hayward (Student Senator etc. from the Institute for Law and Society), Kimberly Moran (Student Council President, Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Science), Rodney Washington (Wagner Student and head of the Graduate Student Affairs Committee), David McGlaughlin (Provost and math professor), Bob Berne (NYU Senior Vice President for Health and signatory on the original GSOC union contract), and our very own Mike Palm. After this, the remainder of the evening was given over to a comment, question, and answer period.

Nerds are not very good notetakers, so what follows will not be a complete summary of the comments, questions, and answers presented but rather a selective presentation of noteworthy, inspiring, pathetic, and humorous points. But Nerds can tell you that of all the comments from the floor during the evening, the only one who did not express at a minimum support for the concept of a graduate student employee union of some kind was Catherine Stimpson—and only maybe one or two others were not entirely resolute in their support of GSOC as the venue for representing our interests at NYU. Additionally, of the 100 people in attendance, very few have not been seen on our picket line at some time or another. Basically, those who care about graduate student life and working conditions at NYU are those who support GSOC.

The administration representatives began by talking about how graduate students and faculty are the “essence” of the University. This proved quite interesting for a GUS (graduate/undergraduate solidarity) member, who wondered how the GAC would provide value in the classroom for her $40,000 a year in payments to NYU (as the union has). The administration did not answer her, which of course shows just how little they actually care about the classroom experience of undergraduates. A further way in which the administration demonstrated this lack of care for undergraduate experience is through their insistence that teaching is not scholarly work (see an article on why this statement is absurd and antithetical to our working lives.

McLaughlin (and also Berne, but McLaughlin did most of the talking) kept making the same speech over and over again about how “the decision has already been made” not to negotiate with GSOC (like management ever “decides” to negotiate with a union without being forced to?). He focused on how some of us “strongly disagree” with his “belief” that the union is not the way to go. Instead, he said, we should focus on the GAC proposal as a “third way.” Of course, if GSOC is the first way and GAC is the third, what is the second? (Nerds believe that GAC is both the second way and the third way, as it was eplicitly called for by Sexton.) No one ever makes that clear. But as a comment from the floor pointed out, management always calls for a “third way” or “middle way” during union struggles. And as Kitty Krupat, Ph.D. candidate in American Studies and GSOC signatory on the first union contract, pointed out—the students sitting up on that panel were not even aware of the way in which they are being used by the administration for its own ends (despite what seem like their honest best intentions).

On the “we’ve heard this enough already” front, McLaughlin continued to emphasize his position that we are not workers (because as Paul Boghossain, Professor of Philosophy, puts it, we receive “a certain amount of coaching”). A member of the audience spoke about how he received job training as an engineer, but still counted as an employee. And yet, the administration representatives had to engage in linguistic acrobatics to avoid using the word “worker” or “employee”—talking about our responsibilities, for instance.

Other comments from the floor pressed the administration to explain why it is working so hard to internally divide the graduate student body. For instance, one commenter pointed out that the GAC proposal would separate out the Courant Institute from the rest of GSOC in terms of student representation. Hugo Pezzini from the Comparative Literature department, in an uncommonly eloquent speech, asked why the university, traditionally a place of idealistic and utopian thinking, would work so hard to undermine the institution of the union, one of the few honorable institutions left in our society. Others pointed out that GSOC was the best and only way of creating community for graduate students, and thus attacking it was attacking the very basis of community (rather than building it, as panel members are pretending to do).

Other portions of the discussion focused on just what power the GAC has, particularly in terms of the “litmus test” of rescinding the blacklist. As even the students on the panel admitted, all the GAC could really do is send a letter to and have a meeting with the administration. Similarly, the appeal process would require each of us to file our own grievances and fight them separately, with no precedent-setting ability. This would be, as Matthew Osypowski of the creative writing program pointed out, impossibly expensive in both time and money for graduate students. Holly Lewis, also of the creative writing program, also did a great job of explaining why and how the sanctions were unfair, and by the end of the evening, panel member Kim Moran seemed to understand where we were coming from. She did even admit that GAC could not replace GSOC and would be powerless to solve our problems.

But perhaps the most absurd comment of the evening comes from Sexton himself, relayed in his absence by an audience member. Sexton has said that the union is a virus which it is his personal mission to eradicate. Perhaps he ought to be careful. Sometimes, when you try to hard to eradicate a virus, it becomes resistant to your medicine.

And for a more journalistic take, see the Washington Square News article.

New AAUP Statement on Grad Students' Rights

Leading scholars today released a statement calling on New York University president John Sexton to accept the clear mandate of the Wagner Act, the cornerstone of US labor law, to recognize the right of employees to choose whether and how they wish to be represented in collective bargaining.

The statement, prepared by the American Association of University Professors and endorsed by more than a dozen of the nation's most prominent academics in labor law, labor history, and industrial relations, addresses Sexton's announcement that the NYU administration will not deal with the university's graduate-student employees through a representative of their own choosing.

"The principle at stake is fundamental," said Roger Bowen, general secretary of the AAUP. "Employers do not have the right to identify, and thereby to control, who shall represent a group of employees," Bowen added. The statement and its signers follow. (Please note: Institutional affiliations are listed for the purpose of identification only.)

The Wagner Act of 1935 embodied a simple principle: employees should have the right to bargain collectively through "representatives of their own choosing." This countered the decades-long opposition of employers, many of whom expressed their willingness to deal with their employees while abjuring any dealing with "outside organizations." One of the most notorious of these anti-union plans was promulgated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. for the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company in 1915. It made provision for regular management meetings with employee groups, for the execution of a form contract governing wages and working conditions, and for the establishment of a grievance procedure with possible recourse to arbitration-so long as no union was involved.

On November 28, 2005, the president of New York University, John Sexton, issued a statement to the university's graduate assistants announcing a tripartite policy: (1) that the administration was prepared to "work directly with . . . [its] graduate students rather than through the intermediary of a union," to deal with departmentally elected graduate assistants on "stipend levels, health care benefits, and other matters of importance"; (2) that the administration was prepared to offer written contracts governing pay ("stipends") and benefits; and (3) that the administration was open to the adoption of a grievance procedure that might include a role for persons outside the university in lieu of the administration as the final arbiter. All this was premised on the administration's rejection of any dealing with an "intermediary" of the graduate assistants' own choosing.

In content and purpose, the New York University administration's policy cannot be distinguished from the "Rockefeller Plan" of 1915. We decry the administration's adoption of an odious anachronism as its policy, but even more the administration's expressed unwillingness to accept what is universally regarded in the free world as a fundamental right. We, academics in labor law, labor history, and industrial relations, call upon the administration of New York University to accept the plain-spoken principle of the Wagner Act.

Benjamin Aaron, Professor of Law Emeritus, University of California, Los Angeles

Michael Belzer, Associate Professor of Industrial Relations, Wayne State University; Research Scientist, University of Michigan

David Brody, Professor Emeritus of History, University of California, Davis

Clair Brown, Professor of Economics, Director, Center for Work, Technology, and Society, University of California, Berkeley

Laura J. Cooper, J. Stewart and Mario Thomas McClendon Professor in Law and Alternative Dispute Resolution, University of Minnesota

Charles B. Craver, Freda H. Alverson Professor, George Washington University Law School

Kenneth G. Dau-Schmidt, Willard and Margaret Carr Professor of Labor and Employment Law, Indiana University, Bloomington

Melvyn Dubofsky, Distinguished Professor of History and Sociology Emeritus, Binghamton University, State University of New York

Jack Getman, Earl F. Sheffield Regents Chair in Law, University of Texas

Robert A. Gorman, Kenneth W. Gemmill Professor of Law Emeritus, University of Pennsylvania

Richard Hurd, Professor of Labor Studies, Cornell University

Sanford M. Jacoby, Howard Noble Professor of Management, Policy Studies, and History, University of California, Los Angeles

Risa Lieberwitz, Associate Professor of Labor and Employment Law, School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University

David Montgomery, Farnam Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University

Theodore J. St. Antoine, Degan Professor Emeritus of Law, University of Michigan

Christopher Tomlins, Senior Research Fellow, American Bar Foundation

Hoyt N. Wheeler, Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies, Faculty of Law, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main; Professor of Management, University of South Carolina

The American Association of University Professors is a nonprofit charitable and educational organization that promotes academic freedom by supporting tenure, academic due process, and standards of quality in higher education. The AAUP has about 45,000 members at colleges and universities throughout the United States. The AAUP supports the right of faculty to choose to bargain collectively. About 70 of 450 local AAUP chapters serve as collective bargaining agents on their campuses.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

TONIGHT! GSAS Town Hall Mtg, 6pm

Wednesday, February 8, at 6pm in Hermerdinger Hall, the Graduate Student Council is hosting a Town Hall Meeting titled: "Graduate Community and Communication: Voices and Perspectives."

GSOC Chairperson Michael Palm will be a panelist, along with NYU Provost David McLaughlin, NYU Vice President Bob Berne, Wagner student and GAC member Rodney Washington, Med student and Student Council president Kimberly Moran, and a faculty member. Christine Scott-Hayward will moderate.

Following brief comments from the panelists, there will be a Q&A session on topics including health care, housing, community, communication, and the recent GAC proposal.


Solidarity and the Future of American Labor

Christopher Hayes, a columnist for The American Prospect, published a column last week on the concept of solidarity in the American labor movement (and especially in December's TWU strike). Hayes's main point is that we have become conditioned in the United States to respond to all matter of social, environmental, and political problems merely by throwing money at them. But, he says, millions of New Yorkers managed to get beyond this conditioning and show their solidarity with the TWU strikers.

Hayes defines "solidarity" both mundanely (as "a robust feeling of togetherness") and sublimely (as "a powerful moral aspiration to realize the fundamental fellowship of humankind"). And he notes that labor unions are really one of the only places left in the United States where solidarity is possible and is practiced--that outside of the labor movement, we in fact seem to ridicule the concept of solidarity.

As Nerds noted in the comments to this article, we experience solidarity every day on the picket line, though usually the mundane kind. This occurs when we talk to each other and reinforce the fact that this strike is a collective struggle in which we share the same interests and face the same troubles. It also occurs when passersby show their support by giving us thumbs-up, stopping to chat, or honking their horns (especially those great Teamsters truck horns and the fire engine sirens). And it happens when workers of all varieties refuse to cross our picket lines.

But what about sublime solidarity? Are we experiencing and expressing that? It is important to remember that this strike is not only about graduate assistants at NYU, even though that is the reality that we live in. It is also about graduate assistants at other universities who wish to have their conditions improved and their right to collective bargaining recognized. It is about the future of higher education and whether we and our undergraduate students will be treated merely as products of an assembly line rather than as members of the knowledege community.

And, indeed, it is about the future of the American labor movement. As time goes on, more and more American workers will be like us--part time or contingent workers engaged in knowledge and service work whic management will try to define as "not-labor" because it doesn't look like what the teamsters, factory workers, construction workers, or miners do. More and more people who have advanced education and training, who thought they had worked their way out of the working class, will find that advanced degrees are no longer the ticket to secure futures. We are only one small part of this struggle, but we are an important part.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Students in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Respond to the Lockout

To: John Edward Sexton, President, New York University
Frank C. Hoppensteadt, Senior Vice Provost for Planning, New York University

Dear Mr. Sexton and Mr. Hoppensteadt,

We are writing in response to the recent letters sent to certain graduate students in our department which threaten to withdraw their stipends for two semesters for failing to meet their courses as scheduled. As these T.A.’s have made clear, and as the administration is surely aware, their absence from class is due to their involvement in a strike for the recognition of the graduate employees' union here at NYU. As students and teachers in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, we repudiate both the tone and the content of these letters. They are an attack on workers’ rights, departmental self-determination, and due process, and they reveal that the administration lacks any commitment to a truly democratic university.

This sort of docking of pay in advance is a punitive measure that would be illegal if graduate student workers had a contract, and it exemplifies the administration’s philosophy: top-down, authoritarian, uncollegial, secretive, and based on fear and intimidation. It points to exactly why graduate student workers need a union to protect themselves and to have a true voice in labor disputes and university-wide matters. Furthermore, it arrogantly violates the right of students and faculty to have a say in how their departments operate.

Given the administration’s unwillingness to protect our rights, we feel no obligation to protect the administration’s bottom line. Therefore, so long as these threats remain in effect, those of us who are striking vow to stand firm in the face of threats and to fight the administration’s bully tactics every step of the way. Those of us who are not teaching this semester vow to refuse all scab work (including tutoring, grading, and recitation sessions) and cannot guarantee our availability to teach in the Fall of 2006. Those of us who are currently teaching also vow to refuse all scab work and, ultimately, we cannot guarantee the timely completion of the semester’s duties (including the turning in of grades and serving on committees).

It saddens us that the administration sees fit to continue its fear-based and divisive agenda. We stand united in our repudiation of these threats, our unconditional support of our striking colleagues, and our continued commitment to a truly democratic university.

(signed by 37 students in the department)

Sanitation Workers in Solidarity

Here's a visual (courtesy of the GSOC Strike Center) to go with this previous post about sanitation workers refusing to cross our picket line at Washington Square Village.

This post is dedicated to all the devoted GSOC strikers on garbage shift, who've risen before the crack of dawn to picket trash removal on campus (you know who you are...). Success! Woot.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Support from Community Board 3

Community Board 3 of the East Village and Lower East Side unanimously passed a resolution in support of our strike, urging elected officials to get involved. NYU's Director of Government and Community Relations Alicia Hurley attended the meeting and attempted unsuccessfully to persuade CB3 not to pass the resolution. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was also present at the meeting and voiced his support for our strike in front of the NYU representatives.

VOTE: Whereas, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee of United Auto Workers Local 2110 (GSOC/UAW Local 2110), the union of graduate student employees of New York University has had a productive five-year collective bargaining relationship with their employer, NYU, which came about as a result of an overwhelming vote of support by NYU's graduate student employees; and

Whereas, the right of graduate student employees at private universities to organize into unions was recently taken away, reversing a bi-partisan Clinton-era precedent by the Bush-appointee dominated National Labor Relations Board; and

Whereas, Community Board #3 recognizes the labor movement's positive contribution to improve the lives of all working people, as well as its historic role in New York City; and

Whereas, since August 31st, 2005, New York University, taking advantage of the Bush NLRB's action, has refused to recognize and negotiate with GSOC/UAW Local 2110 as the collective bargaining agent of its graduate student employees, despite consistent overwhelming support of the NYU community for the union; and

Whereas, hundreds of graduate student employees in GSOC/UAW Local 2110 are withholding their labor from NYU in a strike that commenced November 9th, 2005, including picketing in front of classroom buildings throughout our community; and Whereas, labor peace at NYU is in the interest of all members of the New York City community; and

Whereas, many prominent intellectuals, elected officials and community groups have honored a boycott of NYU's campus while the administration engages in union-busting; and

Whereas, Community Board #3 recognizes New York University's behavior as an historically exploitative corporate citizen both in its real estate expansion and labor relations practices; so

Therefore be it resolved, that Community Board #3 joins many elected officials and members of the community in affirming GSOC/UAW Local 2110's right to exist as the collective bargaining agent for graduate student employees at NYU; and

Be it further resolved, that Community Board #3 urges NYU to immediately negotiate with GSOC/UAW Local 2110 on all aspects of their graduate student employees' wages, hours and working conditions, including the previously enforceable grievance procedure and agency shop clause; and

Be it further resolved, that Community Board #3 condemns the use of replacement labor as a means of strike-breaking and urges NYU to not use said labor and to pledge that it will not retaliate against the union members, or supportive faculty and students; and

Be it further resolved, that Community Board #3 for the duration of the strike at NYU will hold all committee and board meetings in venues not owned by NYU to honor the union's picket line; and

Be it further resolved, that Community Board #3 requests all elected officials representing areas in which NYU employs workers and/or holds properties to make an active commitment to have NYU negotiate immediately with the graduate students organizing committee.

36 YES 0 NO 0 Abstention

In general news:

This Wednesday February 8, at 6pm the Graduate Student Council has called a town hall meeting in Hemmerdinger Hall, Silver Center to discuss graduate student issues. Union Chair Mike Palm will be speaking.

Picket shift hours have been moved to 10 AM to 2 PM--come out and join us! (We're still there, even if the rat isn't--he's become injured after so many weeks of tireless service.)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

10 Things You Can Do to Support GSOC

While in all strikes the withholding of labor power is the most important tool to force management to bargain with workers, there are always other ways to get involved. If you are not a striker (or even if you are), here are 10 things you can do to help.

1. Come to the picket line. We need lots of bodies there to show our strength and to help with specific strategic actions. We are currently picketing from 9 am to 1 pm Monday through Friday--come for an hour or a shift, or sign up to come regularly.

2. Volunteer to flier at special events, particularly in the evenings. If you have available times, you can email GSOC and let them know you are willing to help out.

3. Contact clergy (especially Catholic clergy) and elected officially (especially those from New York State). Urge them to call President Sexton at 212.998.2345 and tell him to stop busting the union.

4. Help move classes, meetings, and special events off-campus. You can volunteer your space (spaces near NYU are most desired)or get help finding a space if you are planning an event.

5. If you are a parent or an alumn, let NYU know that you will not donate money to NYU until they agree to bargain. You can send an email through GSOC's service, or you can contact the alumni giving representative for your school.

6. Donate money to the GSOC strike fund to help support striking workers who have had their pay cut and who will now be locked out or permanantly fired for their union activity. No donation is too big or too small.

7. If you know (or are) a high school guidance counselor, urge him or her to discourage students from applying to NYU. Let them know that students will not get a good education while TAs and instructors are on strike, and let them know that without a union, TAs and instructors are simply unable to provide the high quality of instruction that undergraduates deserve. Similarly, if you know high school students, discourage them directly. Ask high school freshman, sophamores, and juniors to send emails to Sexton and to the admissions office letting NYU know that they will not apply to attend college at a school that busts unions. And encourage current applicants (especially those who receive admissions offers) to let NYU know that they can not in good conscience attend a university which creates such unpleasant learning conditions.

8. If you know (or are) an undergraduate student considering coming to NYU for graduate school (particularly if you have already been accepted), or if you are considering coming to NYU for a faculty job, let NYU know that you can not in good faith come to an institution which direspects its own graduate students. Contact your department directly to send this message, as well as Sexton and, if you are a graduate applicant, the admissions office of your school.

9. Contact members of the Board of Trustees (Nerds will try to provide some contact information in coming days). Let them know that they are sacrificing NYU's sense of community and its reputation. Tell them to make Sexton negotiate with the union. And if you happen to know any of the trustees, let GSOC know. While you are at it, add your name to the online petition urging NYU to negotiate.

10. Contact local and national media outlets through letters to the editor or by calling the news desks directly to remind them that the strike is still on and that strikers are no longer being paid. Increasing the level of news coverage keeps our profile high. Similarly, if you are a member of another union, make sure that your local union newsletter covers our struggle and provides information about how to support us--with money and with bodies.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

A Little Saturday Afternoon Inspiration

There Is Power In A Union
by Billy Bragg

There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amounts to nothing if together we don't stand
There is power in a Union

Now the lessons of the past were all learned with workers' blood
The mistakes of the bosses we must pay for
From the cities and the farmlands to trenches full of mud
War has always been the bosses' way, sir

The Union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters from many far off lands
There is power in a Union

Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws can not defeat us
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Money speaks for money, the Devil for his own
Who comes to speak for the skin and the bone
What a comfort to the widow, a light to the child
There is power in a Union

The Union forever defending our rights
Down with the blackleg, all workers unite
With our brothers and our sisters together we will stand
There is power in a Union.

WBAI Radio Coverage of Strike

Here's the link to a WBAI radio show on our strike, which aired last Tuesday on "Global Movements, Urban Struggles" (Tuesdays 10-11am, WBAI/Free Speech Radio News, New York 99.5 FM).

The one-hour audio file includes some terrific clips from the labor rally outside Bobst Library on January 24th, including words from Roger Toussaint of the Transport Workers Union Local 100, and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. Click to hear the always eloquent GSOC members Jenny Shaw and Mike Palm speak about the strike, as well as NYU Professors Molly Nolan and Timothy Mitchell, who address our labor dispute in terms of broader economic transformation and its effect on academia.

Well worth a listen!

Friday, February 03, 2006

Weekly News Roundup

Local independant paper The Villager writes about Christine Quinn's support during the rally in January.

The UPenn student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, covers their union's support for our strike.

from the Harvard Crimson

And the Washington Square News on stipend cuts

Notes of support on the websites of other unions (just a sampling, as there are tons):
The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation at the University of Oregon (who also have a news section focused on our struggle)

AFT Riverside

And finally, an interesting older peice: the New York City Socialist Party statement on our strike

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Political Money Trail at NYU

So what are the political affiliations of NYU administrators and trustees? Nerds have conducted some research, and here are the results. All data comes from The Center for Responsive Politics, and unless otherwise noted, concerns contributions made since 2002.

John Sexton, you may be interested to know, is not a big donor. He has not donated any money since 2000 (though his wife, Lisa Goldberg, always a bigger donor than him, contributed $2,000 to John Edwards's election campaign). Between 1990 and 2000, Sexton donated $3,250 to the Clintons and $2,000 to the DNC.

Other administration officials, despite their hefty salaries, similarly seem to avoid spreading the money around to politicians and PACs--Stimpson, for instance, has donated only $300 to the DNC since 2002.

The Trustees are much more interesting (not having the time, we did not research all trustees, only the Board of Directors and a few other interesting names).

The award for the highest total dollar amount goes to Larry Silverstein, who donated over $150,000 to both democrats and republicans, including about $30,000 to the RNC or its more local components.

Preston Tisch wins the soft money contest, with $75,000 in donations to the RNC and its subsidiaries.

Other large republican contributors include Kenneth Langone, who gave close to $100,000 to republican candidates and PACs; Anthony Welters, who gave over $60,000, mostly to republican candidates and PACs; and Richard Grasso, who gave money to McCain, various democratcs, and $10,000 to Guiliani's PAC.

Leonard Wilf wins the good democrat award, with $15,000 in contributions to the New Jersey State Democrats (though he did show his stripes as a real estate developer by giving George W. Bush $2,000). Others with large democratic contributions include William R. Berkely, who gave $76,000 to members of both parties and assorted PACs (though primarily democrats).

The most-random award goes to Martin Lipton, whose contributions included: $2,000 to Bush in 2004; $5,000 to Lamar Alexander (R-TN); $3,500 to democratic candidates from CT, CO, and IL; and $1,000 to Robert Torricelli, disgraced democrat from NJ.

What does this all mean? Well, the bigwigs on the Board of Trustees like to spread the dough around to make sure they get the best deal possible from whoever wins. And we should remember these numbers would be smaller if we focused only on more recent years, as the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill restricted soft money contributions (those to PACs). As for the administration, despite high salaries (Sexton, for instance, made $897,139 in total compensation in 2003-04), they like to keep the money for themselves--though Sexton's personal ties to the Clintons seem to have overcome this reticence.

Don't Cross Our Picket Line!

Today, garbage collectors refused to cross our picket line to collect trash at Washington Square Village. NYU security and residential life staff paid the trash a visit and expressed amazement at the fact that it was there.

Also, representatives of many local politicians, including Mark Green (candidate for New York State Attorney General and NYU Honors Seminar Instructor) and Rosie Mendez (City Councilwoman for the East Village) refused to cross our picket line to attend an internship fair sponsored by the NYU College Democrats.

If you haven't contributed to the GSOC Strike Fund lately, here's a reminder to do so. Your contributions will help support the 7+ workers who have been fired and locked out for an entire 12 months by NYU. Two of these workers, MFA candidates in creative writing, are losing not only their salaries, but also their tuition remission and health insurance.