Thursday, February 09, 2006

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.

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