Friday, March 31, 2006

Rat Patrol

For all you inflatable rat lovers out there, check out The Rat Patrol flickr pool! It even features some shots of GSOC's very own. More coverage at Gothamist.

(photo courtesy of abracapocus, via The Rat Patrol pool)

Don't mess with the rat, yo.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

NYU: Most Loathsome New Yorker

The New York Press has released its 2006 list of "the most loathsome New Yorkers." Nerds think NYU should start touting its position on this list the way touts its success in other rankings schemes: earning two of the top ten positions on this list!

Sexton is number 7 on the list of 50, and he earned his position in large part through his refusal to bargain a new contract with GSOC.

And NYU Trustee Larry Silverstein is number 2, loosing out only to Bruce Ratner in loathsomeness (if only NY Press realized Silverstein was part of NYU, maybe he could have made his way to number 1).

Want to make sure Sexton gets what's coming to him? Through April 1, you can vote for most loathsome New Yorker.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Update on Ontario Strike

The strike of teaching faculty at Ontario colleges, which Nerds first discussed a few weeks ago, ended this week with an agreement to seek arbitration for the contract dispute.

However, the three-week-long strike had a casualty: one striking faculty member, John Stammers, died this weekend from injuries sustained after being hit by a car while on the picket line (Nerds thank a reader from Duke University for bringing this to our attention). Police have said that no charges will be forthcoming, which is a controversial decision.

Strikes are hard things, for all the people who take part in them. We face risks every day, be they to our financial well-being; our mental and emotional condition; our relationships with friends, family, and co-workers; or our lives and limbs. John Stammers knew he was taking risks by being on the picket line for a cause he beleived in, though he didn't expect it would lead to his death. Nerds hope his example can inspire others to take some smaller risks to fight for the rights of all workers to unionize.

NYU's Dirty Money

GSOCers have been working hard to get the word out to prospective students about NYU's union-busting tactics by leafleting the tour groups that happen to leave from a building right next to the picket line. On Monday, we told prospective students and their parents that 84.5% of NYU's general education classroom hours are taught by graduate teaching assistants. Some of the tour attendies were receptive to our message. Others acted as if they had been warned inside the information session that if they talked to us their darling little children might get sent away to *gasp* attent a state university.

While we are at it, Nerds would like to point out NYU's love of dirty money. $200 million of dirty money later, and yet we still don't have a contract?

Monday, March 27, 2006

News Updates

The Washington Square News notes GSOC's presence at the Triangle Shirtwaist memorial/rally on Friday. This article contains an interesting comment from Josh Taylor, the current anti-GSOC go-to for NYU and the VP for web communications, suggesting that GSOC didn't understand the purpose of the event as memorial rather than political while other speakers did. Since he is also quoted in the article as saying that NYU officials do not attend the rally (which seems unfortionate, given NYU's ownership of the factory building and the memorial purpose of the event), Nerds think it pretty sad that he spoke without recognizing that all the other labor union activists at the event viewed it as a time to advocate for continued improvment in union organizing rights and working conditions in NYC and the US. The story was picked up by Laborstart.

Indymedia, on the other hand, picked up Nerds' own coverage of the memorial/rally. And Political Cortex, a democratic blogging community, related the history of the fire and its connection to GSOC's struggle and strike. The Political Cortex story, including the references to GSOC, was picked up by Daily Kos and Daily Gotham.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Triangle Shirtwaist, In Memorium

Today, Nerds attended a city-wide labor rally held in honor of the 147 people (mostly Italian and Jewish immigrant girls and young women) who died in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire 95 years ago. These deaths would have largely been prevented if basic safety precautions had been taken, such as keeping all exit doors unlocked, having sturdy fire escapes, and having sprinkler systems.

The building in which the factory was housed is now an NYU classroom building. NYU frequently refers to the tragic story of the building in alumni newsletters and documents about campus history, often using the occasion to highlight NYU's supposed commitment to progressive politics and workers' rights. But as so many speakers at today's event pointed out, that only heightens the irony as NYU continues to deny the workers of GSOC our own labor rights.

The rally and memorial was organized by UNITE-HERE, and labor activists from that union as well as GSOC, the NYC Teachers' Union, and the TWU spoke alongside elected officials about the importance of a strong labor movement for protecting workers' rights and workers' lives. Our struggle got shout-outs and support from Unite-Here!, from Roger Toussaint of the TWU, and from Christine Quinn, Speaker of the New York City Council--and many GSOCers were there with banners and signs to make sure that the assembled crowd of NYU personnel; curious passersby; union members from AFT, TWU, UNITE-HERE, SEIU, and the Firefighters Union; and lots of New York City public school children knew about our cause.

For more information on the fire and the changes in the legal and regulatory environment surrounding the workplace, visit the excellent exhibit from the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Casualization of the Academic Workforce

Get-Up, the graduate employees' union at the University of Pennsylvania, has released a report on the casualization of academic work at Penn. The report shows that graduate employees teach 67% of recitations, while less than 20% are taught by full-time employees. Similarly, 52% of laboratory sections are taught by graduate employees. And in terms of stand-alone class sessions, graduate employees taught 10%, while full-time employees taught about half of class sessions, with tenure-track faculty teaching only 2 out of 5. And this is only counting courses in core academic departments at Penn--not departments in engineering, nursing, business, or continuing education.

Graduate employees are obviously central to the functioning of the university, and the core role of tenure-track faculty is obviously not the instruction of undergraduates. And while this data is not available for NYU, there is no reason to think it is any better.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Back from Spring Break

NYU's spring break was last week, meaning that the picket line was empty like the campus was. But GSOC found ways to keep the pressure on even when no one was around. GSOCers leafletted trustee Martin Liptin's office and confronted the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. GSOC also visited an alumni event at the Baltusrol Golf Course in Springfield, NJ, where passersby offered their support. Alumni took fliers to pass around inside the event. GSOC members have also returned to Albany as part of a UAW group meeting with state Assembly Members and and Senators.

On Monday, when the picket line started back up with lots of drums and chanting, lots of people stopped by to offer their support and take a button or a sticker. We also talked to members of many tour groups of prospective students. Apparently and unsuprisingly, tour or information session leaders are telling parents and prospective students to ignore the noisy people they encounter on the tour (Nerds can not imagine being a prospective student and not wanting to know what the picket line was about). But strikers were able to get the attention of parents and students when they were told that classes have not met because of the strike, and many took our fliers after hearing this.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Another Academic Unionization Campaign

According to today's Chronicle of Higher Education, staff at the Montpelier, VT campus of the Union Institute and University voted last week to form a union (37 of 41 elligible voters were in favor). Issues important to the new union members include participation in decision making, pay increases, and vacation/sick leave. The administration has officially stated its intention to bargain in good faith.

GSOC is perhaps the flagbearer for this movement of unionization of academic employees, but we are not at all alone. Everywhere you look there are academic employees fighting for the right to unionize, just as we are.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Press Updates

The Washington Square News has an article on fired/blacklisted
GAs' attempts to navigate NYU's unclear grievance procedure. The article
quotes Joanna Holzman as she explains that NYU's grievance procedures are not substitute for a union contract. The story was picked up by TMCnet, a publishing outfit focused on technology.

The Washington Square News also carried a letter from Joanna Holzman about the lobbying trip to Albany, which makes clear that GSOC requests to deny state funds to NYU will not imperil undergraduate financial aid.

An article in the Downtown Express covering a town hall meeting in NoHo with elected officials highlighted some NYU-related issues. In response to a call from local historic preservationists for NYU to be asked to focus development energies away from the Village area, Scott Stringer (Manhattan Borough President) agreed to hold a meeting on the subject and said the meeting would also focus on NYU's response to GSOC and our strike. Bob Cohen (a Community Relations Consultant for NYU) tried to pretend that NYU has good relations with many employee unions and trotted out the same rhetoric about "whether [we] are workers or students."

A bit out of date, but Nerds' readers may be interested in viewing video of the picket line.

Finally, Nerds would like to celebrate a milestone: we have broken onto
the first page of Google listings. Thank you to our loyal readers (and especially our loyal linkers) for helping us get there.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Academic Labor: The Front Lines

(Nerds wanted to post this yesterday, but Blogger aparently decided we were a spam blog and we had to fix the problem. Our apologies for the delay.)

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, faculty members at Kaplan University (a for-profit university enrolling 50,000 students and owned by the Washington Post) are currently trying to form a union. The University employs about 110 full-time and 1,500 part-time faculty, and the UAW is involved in the organizing campaign.

Important issues in the unionization campaign include pressure to inflate grades and look the other way at plagiarism or cheating. In addition, former faculty members allege that they have been fired simply for receiving an average course evalation score below 4 on a 5-point scale in one course or for writing and circulating emails critical of the University administration.

The Faculty Senate has urged faculty not to support the union, using language suspiciously familiar to GSOCers: "Although we respect the right of faculty to voice an opinion about the university's governance structure, we also want to make clear that doing so in such a manner runs some real risks and may well be an unwise course of action...Creating a partisan or adversarial faculty union runs the real risk of reducing trust between the administration and faculty and therefore limiting the nature, scope, and efficacy of constructive rational dialogue."

You can read the rest of the story (it's very long), but you may need subscriber access.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Update on Balducci's Unionization Struggle

[note to sociologists: stay alert for a familiar name]

Lining Up at Balducci's, and Not for the Salmon
By LIZA MONROY, New York Times

With a milling crowd on the sidewalk, mornings at the new Balducci's on Eighth Avenue at 14th Street are reminiscent of another Chelsea institution, the mega-club.

But the people standing outside aren't waiting to get inside the historic New York Savings Bank building, which houses the newest branch of Balducci's, an upscale market. On the contrary; they are protesting the fact that the store's workers are not unionized.

As shoppers enter the store, which opened late last year and features picture-perfect displays of fresh pink salmon, passion fruit and butternut squash bathed in flattering natural light, they are greeted with cries of "Boycott! Boycott!" On most weekdays, about a dozen protesters — members of Local 1500 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union — show up to wave bright pink and green fliers bearing the headline "Before you shop ... Stop."

According to Patrick Purcell, the local's organizing director, the issue is that the store's nearly 150 workers lack job protection, employer-paid medical insurance and pension plans, and earn $7.50 to $11 an hour, compared with the average $17 an hour paid to their counterparts at unionized groceries.

In response, Peter Krieger, the company's acting chief executive officer, said in a telephone interview: "The statements Pat Purcell has made about our salary and pension are untrue. On average we pay higher than what he claims, but it is our policy not to discuss specific wages."

Upscale groceries are no strangers to picketers. Protests have taken place outside the SoHo branch of nonunionized Dean & Deluca's, according to Pat Roney, the chief executive of Dean & DeLuca, and when Garden of Eden opened a store on Broadway and 107th Street last year, there were protests over the fact that workers were paid nonunion wages.

Protesters descended on the Balducci's within days of its opening, and according to Mr. Purcell, they will remain until their demands are met.

Still, many shoppers are not deterred.

"I shop at Balducci's every day," said Charles Lombardo, an antiques dealer who lives a few blocks away, as he passed through the store's glass doors. "I pay no mind to them."

Even shoppers reluctant to cross a picket line have devised strategies to make their way into the store. Jim Jasper, a sociologist who lives a block away, shops in the evening, when the protesters are gone.

"I must say," Mr. Jasper said, "it's a pretty good store."

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Support from Union Leaders

John Wilhelm, co-president of Unite Here!, told GSOC members that our fight is a winnable fight. Wilhelm works with unions on the Yale campus, where they have experienced 11 strikes over the past four decades. He said that in his experience, you don't know when you will win until you do, but that we can do it.

The president of the Communications Workers of America, Larry Cohen, said in a speech that our strike is inspiring to watch, particularly the way we have been able to persist and stay strong in the face of unprecidented threats to our ability to work in our company and our industry.

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn said that workers like us are important to the future of the labor movement, and noted that we have a lot to teach the labor movement as a whole, particularly about the issues facing non-citizen workers in the United States.

And GSOC members say to NYU: we are not going away, and the level of disruption can only grow from here.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Draft of Grad Grievance Procedure

The NYU administration has released a draft of the proposed "grievance procedure" that they are trying to substitute for collective bargaining and union grievances.

So what does this proposal say?

Well, first of all, it is only used if the grievance can not be resolved via the alternative methods of a procudure internal to a specific school--meaning that whatever the Working Group ends up with, it could easily be superceeded by changed internal to GSAS or other divisions of NYU.

"Facilitators" will be available to shepard cases through the grievance procedure, but these facilitators will not be available to give advice to or advocate for individuals. This means that while NYU has lawyers on staff and on call to help them win, plaintiffs will not even have a volunteer and semi-trained advocate to stand by their side. (The proposal does offer plaintiffs the opportunity to bring a single advocate with them, but this advocate will have to be paid for my the plaintiff and will generally not be familiar with the grievance procedure).

The panel conveined to decide on the grievance does not actually make a binding decision--not even a binding decision that could then be appealed. Rather, the Provost, David McLaughlin, (or "the Provost's designee") can overturn or wipe away the decision of the panel on any basis--and this does not even take place until up to 45 days after the original filing of the grievance.

If the plaintiff wished to appeal the Provost's decision, she or he can do so only if the grievance concerns "non-academic matters" (as defined in our union contract, this means primarily economic matters). Then, the plaintiff will be able to have a hearing before one member of a five-member panel of academics external to NYU who are appointed by "mutual agreement" between the administration and the House of Delegates (the new toothless student government). These decisions will be considered binding, meaning that the ultimate authority resides with a single unnamed external academic.

As noted above, the proposal relies on language from the union contract as to what is and is not an academic matter. It also relied on the union contract to define what management rights in terms of academic matters are. So Nerds want to know--why not just let the contract stand, since the language it contains is obviously so good at explaining management rights?

Finally, and most importantly, this proposal specifies that each case "will not have general applicability," meaning that the same issue will have to be grieved over and over again, every semester, ad infinitum. NYU can therefore continue to engage in whatever dirty tricks it wishes--dirty tricks that happen every semester already, like removing illegal taxes from our paychecks or refusing to issue the first paycheck until after over a month of work has taken place. Under our union contract, once these issues had been grieved for the first time, NYU obviously could try to ignore the fact that they were not allowed to engage in such tricks--but we certainly did not have to have an entirely new hearing to prove ourselves anew each time.

"The Graduate Grievance Working Group," whose membership is not made public, claims it would like to hear feedback about its proposal. This feedback should be sent to, and Nerds are fine with you cribbing from our own critiquw.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Ontario Faculty Strike

Faculty at colleges in Ontario have gone out on strike, highlighting again how higher education is at the forefront of the North American labor movement today--here's the coverage from The Chronicle of Higher Education

By Karen Birchard:
About 150,000 students at Ontario's 24 colleges of applied arts and technology are out of the classroom after their professors walked off their jobs early Tuesday, and some students are wondering whether the strike will prevent them from graduating on time.

Negotiations between the professors, whose last contract expired in August, and the colleges broke down late Monday night after days of intense talks conducted under a media blackout.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents some 9,100 full-time faculty members at the colleges, says the central issue is education quality. However, the colleges say they've offered a good deal, with salary increases that would make the professors the highest-paid college faculty members in the country and with no additional workload.

"We thought the offer was reasonable," said Rick Miner, who is chair of the presidents' committee of the Association of Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology of Ontario, and president of Seneca College, the largest college in Canada.

Mr. Miner said the offer included a 12.6-percent increase over four years that would bring the top teaching salary to about $83,000 and $87,000 (U.S.) for faculty members with additional duties.

The average class size at the colleges, which offer two-, three-, and four-year vocationally oriented programs, is 28 students," Mr. Miner said, "and that's lower than class sizes at universities."

He added that the concerns of parents and students about the strike coming late in the academic year were understandable and said he hoped that those who were scheduled to graduate this spring would be able to do so.

The union has held out for smaller classes and more full-time faculty members so each student would get more one-on-one time with teachers.

"It's a clash over quality education," said Randy Robinson, a spokesman for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union. Most of the courses at the colleges are highly technical and hands-on, he said, and faculty members also provide a mentoring role. "The sardine-can approach doesn't work."

Students are worried about the prospect of losing a semester's work. "We're angry," said Matt Jackson, president of the College Student Alliance, which represents a majority of the students. "It's frustrating. Our major concern is to get students back to the classroom."

Mr. Jackson predicted that if the strike lasted longer than a few days, there would be a serious ripple effect on the province's economy. "Business and industry are expecting 44,000 college graduates to start working in June," he said.

A strike that lasts more than 10 class days might put last-year students in jeopardy of not completing their requirements before they are supposed to start work. In addition, tens of thousands of students had plans to start summer jobs in May, and they are worried that they'll lose those jobs if the semester is extended. College administrators say they are working on a contingency plan that would allow students to make up for lost time even if the strike drags on.

The students' group is urging parents, employers, and students to e-mail politicians, the union and the colleges to tell "them to do anything in their power to get both bargaining teams back to the table and get an agreement as soon as possible." It has set up links on its Web site to make such contacts easier.

"The response has been very heavy," Mr. Jackson said. "The site crashed Tuesday morning, and we had to increase our bandwidth to accommodate the number of users."

Many of the students who attend the colleges have had firsthand experience with labor disputes in Ontario that affected their education. They lost time in grade school because of a sweeping teachers' strike in 1997, and many saw limits on extracurricular activities in high school because teachers wouldn't agree to do any after-school supervision during "work to rule" campaigns in recent years. The College Student Alliance says both sides need to remember that students are paying "to receive a quality postsecondary education."

Ontario's college system is unique in Canada. It provides focused employment training and enrolls many university graduates who take supplementary college courses after earning their degree. The courses are developed in partnership with thousands of businesses and industries. In addition, every college has a partnership agreement with local universities. During the strike, most campuses are remaining open to students so they can use academic, health, and recreational facilities. Administrators are advising them to keep up their course work. Night classes that are taught by faculty members not represented by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union are continuing on many campuses, as are some classes taught by university professors, who are represented by a different union.

College faculty members in Ontario went on strike in 1984 and 1989 for 18 and 20 days, respectively. Those strikes took place early in the school year and students were able to make up for lost classroom time.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Conference on Academic Collective Bargaining

On April 2nd, 3rd, and 4th there will be a conference on academic collective bargaining sponsored by the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions. The conference will feature academic discussions, presentations about campaigns around the country, and workshops on organizing. For more information about the conference, including the schedule, costs, and registration form, visit the NCSCBHEP website. Special reduced rates are available for graduate employees, contingent faculty, and postdocs--to find out what they are, you can email NCSCBHEP.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Monday on the Picket Line

Today on the picket line, the father of a prospective student told picketers that he would not send his daughter to NYU because of the strike. We also got support from a representative of the National Student Union of Britain. features an article on unionization for part-time and non-tenure-track academic employees.

You can fill out a petition to support striking janitors at the University of Miami.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Albany Lobbying Update

About 70 GSOC members went to Albany on Tuesday to meet with about 130 state congresspeople and let them know about NYU's union-busting ways. It happened to be on the same day that NYU lobbies for state money (yes, it is a private university, but the state gives it tons of dough anyway). GSOC members asked the congresspeople to deny this funding to NYU unless NYU negotiates with the union, and GSOC got a lot of support from congresspeople.

Incidently, NYU had scheduled a reception for congresspeople Tuesday evening. GSOC asked congresspeople to show their support by refusing to attend the reception. Consequentially, NYU disinvited the congresspeople so as to avoid embarassing themselves. The reception did still go on for area alumns, but many turned away when they saw the GSOC picket line.

If you have a mailing address in New York State (and most particularly if you live outside the five boroughs), you can support GSOC's lobbying efforts by sending a letter to your state senator and representative asking them to withold state funding for NYU until NYU comes to the bargaining table with GSOC/UAW Local 2110. You can search for your state senator and representative by zip code.

Another higher education unionization effort to keep an eye on: janitors at the University of Miami.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Check It: GUS Film Screening

From GUS:
Before there was GSOC, there was … NEWSIES!

The 1992 Disney cult classic musical NEWSIES, starring a young, svelte Christian Bale, recounts the efforts of teenage newspaper peddlers to form a union in turn-of-the-century New York City.

Join Graduate Undergraduate Solidarity (GUS) for dinner and a movie.

Friday March 3rd, 6pm to 8pm
Vanderbilt Hall 216 at the NYU Law School

Free and Open to ALL!
See also NYU Inc's info page.

Sexton at Yesterday's Town Hall

The Working Families Party weblog contains a post about the strike.

Today's Washington Square News has coverage of last night's town hall meeting with Sexton. Among the highlights:

  • Because sexton beleives he knows the name of 8 or 10 frequent picketers, he claims that means that the bulk of current, future, and former graduate employees are not still in support of GSOC.
  • Sexton claimed offense because members of GUS suggested he was a liar and immoral in his GSOC-related dealings
  • Sexton told students who want a union that they shouldn't come to NYU, instead choosing to attend state universities
  • Sexton suggested that one reason that we should not be unionized is because law school teaching and research assistants were not part of the union vote, despite the fact that the employment conditions for these workers are rather different from those for GSOC members. For instance, law school teaching assistants result in academic credit rather than pay. Research assistants are paid, and while conditions vary, they are generally paid about $10 an hour and work for 5-15 hours a week in jobs that they choose to apply to. (He also pointed out that some science GAs were not included in the original union vote, though that was by virtue of the original NLRB decision supporting GSOC.)

Stay tuned for an Albany update in coming days!