Lecturers strike to keep union

November 25, 2005

New York University has been forced to cancel seminars and classes during a strike by graduate students who undertake extensive teaching duties.

The student lecturers are seeking to safeguard union rights and working conditions. Hundreds have joined picket lines on campus in protest at what they see as a union-busting initiative led by NYU president John Sexton.

The students claim support from more than 1,000 graduates, from almost 250 faculty and growing support among undergraduates.

They are maintaining a daily picket amid fears that the move to derecognise their union, which is linked to the United Auto Workers (UAW), will lead to disputes over pay and conditions.

On the picket line, Sonya Fix , a linguistics PhD student, said: "We have been in discussions over continuing our union rights for months now and we sent an open letter with 800 signatures. But they (the authorities) just seem to ignore us."

Bethany Runes, who works for the NYU Graduate Student Organising Committee, said: "We are absolutely not pressing for new rights, but they seem bent on drawing a line in the sand and saying no union recognition. This university depends on graduates taking on large teaching loads."

As the dispute entered its second week, faculty have bombarded university administrators with requests for classes to be moved to locations where they are not obliged to cross picket lines. More than 400 classes and seminars have been relocated, with many classes taking place in professors'

apartments or local cafes.

In 2000, the National Labor Relations Board, which controls labour laws, allowed graduate teaching assistants (TAs) to organise in a union. The NYU Graduate Assistants' Society was established in 2001, the first at a private university in the US.

Last year, following the appointment of a nominee to the board by the Bush Administration, the requirement for recognition was rescinded, allowing NYU authorities to remove recognition when the agreement came up for renewal in August.

Professor Sexton held discussions in recent weeks with senior faculty who were concerned about a decline in staff morale, damage to student-staff relations and the NYU image, as well as impending problems in fulfilling obligations to undergraduates.

The NYU president indicated that he had no agenda, nor did he plan any diminution in rights and pay. University authorities pointed out that graduate TAs received $50,000 (£29,000) worth of support, albeit largely in the form of tuition remissions, with actual salary levels of $19,000.

A statement from NYU provost for academic affairs, David McLaughlin, claimed campus was facing "disruptions by auto workers" (although GSoc belongs to the UAW, protest has been solely by graduate students) and that GSoc "interfered" in academic decision-making, making this "a matter of principle and not economics".

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