New York University graduate employees—members of Graduate Student Organizing Committee UAW Local 2110—successfully capped a struggle that began at the turn of this century when they ratified a five year contract with the university. Lily Defriend, a Ph.D. candidate in the Anthropology Department said:
This contract will make a real difference in our lives here at NYU and will raise the bar for private-sector graduate working people nationally.
The 1,200 teaching and research graduate employees ratified the agreement with a 99% vote in favor, making NYU the only private university in the country with a unionized graduate employee workforce.
The agreement makes substantial gains in wages, health care (including a 90% subsidy toward individual coverage and first-time support for dependent coverage), child care benefits and tuition waivers. In addition, it doubles the starting wage to $20 per hour over the life of the five-year agreement for workers at NYU’s Polytechnic School of Engineering, who perform and support cutting-edge research.
After becoming the first group of private-university graduate workers to successfully unionize in 2000, the UAW won a groundbreaking contract at NYU. In 2005, the university withdrew recognition, hiding behind a Bush-era National Labor Relations Board decision stripping graduate employees of the right to collective bargaining.
Undeterred, the workers at NYU fought an eight-year battle for recognition, and the university agreed to recognize the UAW once again, subject to an election conducted by the American Arbitration Association, in which NYU remained neutral. The workers voted 98.4% in favor of being represented by the UAW in December 2013.
Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, said:
They did not back down after being stripped of their bargaining rights in 2005. Their commitment to justice will have a huge impact on the working lives of teaching and research assistants throughout the university. This victory has already inspired other private-sector graduate employees to organize.
The UAW represents more than 45,000 academic workers across the U.S., including graduate employees at the University of Massachusetts, University of Connecticut, University of Washington, University of California and California State University.