By MARC PARRY, Staff writer Thursday, July 12, 2007
ALBANY -- Labor activists broke out banners and balloons Wednesday to celebrate a ruling that allows some graduate student research assistants to unionize.
They rallied at the University at Albany to cheer a decision that directly affects about 2,000 employees of the Research Foundation of the State University of New York working in Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse.
The private nonprofit foundation administers outside grants for sponsored research programs at SUNY. The employees affected by the case are enrolled at SUNY but draw their paychecks from the foundation, a union leader said.
The ruling by the National Labor Relations Board focused on whether the student assistants have a fundamentally economic or educational relationship to their employer.
The board reversed the decision of a regional director who had ruled the research assistants are not employees of the foundation, meaning they would not qualify for collective-bargaining rights.
Graduate students have shouldered more and more of universities' day-to-day work over the past 20 years. The new ruling represents "a rare expansion of bargaining rights for graduate students under the current labor board, appointed by President Bush," according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which closely tracks college labor issues.
"It's a victory for graduate students across the country," Arindam Mandal of Communications Workers of America Local 1104 said through a megaphone during a noon rally that drew fewer than 20 people.
The decision contrasts with a major ruling handed down by the NLRB in a related case three years ago. The board ruled then that graduate teaching assistants at Brown University lack collective-bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act because they are students rather than employees.
One Cornell University labor expert argued that the new development opens the door to an appeal of the original ruling and is "the kind of decision that the board will regret because they have muddied their own waters quite significantly."
"People might think it's a small decision, but I think it's an important decision because it lays bare the contradictions in the earlier decision," said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
For years, collegial relations between the faculty and the administration contributed to Quinnipiac University's prestige, helping it to a secure a place on U.S. News & World Report's list of the nation's best institutions of higher education. This past spring, Quinnipiac president John Lahey, exploiting a loophole in federal labor law, stripped professors of their right to bargain a contract and busted their union. Effectively declaring war on the university's professors, Lahey erased Quinnipiac's more than thirty-year history of negotiating with its faculty and recognizing professors' right to a democratic say in the decisions that shape their working lives.
Diminishing the status of a university's faculty cannot improve the status of the university. By denying professors their fundamental rights and provoking a bitter labor dispute, Lahey has jeopardized the collegial environment that has made Quinnipiac such a great place to work and to learn. But it doesn't have to be this way. Tell President Lahey to keep Quinnipiac great by abandoning his program of union-busting and by restoring the rights of the faculty.
CARBONDALE, IL With a two to one show of force, Graduate Assistants United-IEA/NEA of Southern Illinois University Carbondale wound up a year-and-a-half long organizing campaign on Wednesday with a strong vote to unionize. Over 400 graduate assistants took part in the vote with a final count of 248 for representation and 112 opposed. Dozens of challenged ballots insufficient to affect the outcome of the vote were also cast. The total voting unit was 982 GAs although GAs at SIUC have ranged from 1,200 to 1,600 per semester by recent counts provided by the university through Freedom of Information Act requests by GA United.
Political Science Teaching Assistant Marinus van Kuilenburg co-chairs GA United with Shelly McGrath, a Research Assistant in Sociology. Van Kuilenburg was pleased with the turnout and strong support the vote represents.
"This is a great victory for the many grad employees who make this place work. That is why this is good for SIUC," van Kuilenburg said.
Graduate employees at SIUC are hardworking, motivated and care greatly about the work they do in service to our students. With the security of a collective bargaining agreement and representation from the IEA/NEA, they will be able to do even more.
McGrath said individual contacts were made over the last several semesters with most of the eligible voters by a large core of union activists on campus and through phone banks. "Through this campaign we found that GAs are tired of onerous fee increases, stipends and basic benefits that lag behind peer institutions, and less than desirable working conditions for many. We organized to gain a voice and put to stop to the unilateral decisions that make a hard job even harder."
While many of SIUC's graduate employees serve the university in non-academic areas, this vote follows the organizing trend across Illinois and the nation by contingent academic labor, now the majority of those teaching undergraduate students at American colleges and universities.
"Now we are now ready to work with the SIUC administration and SIU Board to begin to solve problems to the mutual benefit of everyone at SIUC," van Kuilenburg said. "We won our seat at the table, but this is only the first step. Now it's time for us to sign up members and continue with work in progress to develop bargaining proposals. All GAs can easily find and complete an electronic bargaining survey at our website: http://www.gaunited.org. We look forward to sitting down together to create a first rate contract that makes things better for all of us. Now is when the real work begins."
The Illinois Education Association/NEA has represented nearly 700 SIUC tenure-line faculty since 1996 and more than 450 civil service professionals dating back to the 1970s. Exactly one year ago, Non-Tenure Track Faculty at the campus voted in their own IEA affiliated union local.
Inside Higher Education
The video had the same amateur quality as those that circulate on YouTube and other Internet sites. Set to the lyrics of Were Not Going to Take It, a handheld camera followed friends of the graduate student unionization movement to a New York University alumni fund-raising event this past year that featured the unions public enemy of the moment, NYU President John Sexton.
The party crashers did their best to disrupt the function, and the roughly 100 labor organizers from around the country who watched the screening on Friday - some of whom appeared in the footage - cheered the effort. If that was'nt enough to stir the audience at the start of the 15th annual Coalition of Graduate Employees Union conference, in Philadelphia, former Yale University graduate student Carlos Aramayos challenge to his brothers and sisters set the tone.
"University administrators are trying to put together a national message, and we havent been good enough in pushing our movement," said Aramayo, a representative from Graduate Employees and Student Organization at Yale.
by Josh Cornfield
AUG 11, 2006
UNIVERSITY CITY The graduate students union at the University of Pennsylvania, which has long fought with the university for recognition, is co-hosting a conference of 30 grad unions from around North America this weekend.
The 15th-annual Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions (CGEU) conference begins today with workshops and seminars on topics including contract negotiation, lobbying and media relations. Organizer Bill Herman said the conference will draw some 100 union members from as far away as Vancouver.
Grad unions from Rutgers and Temple, both recognized by their universities in contract negotiations, are co-hosting the event. Penn's Graduate Employees Together-UPenn (GET-UP) is still trying to get the same from Penns administration.
"I think it would take a lot of things," Herman said of getting Penns recognition. "External political pressure is certainly beneficial...It takes sitting down with the administration and talking about what unionization would mean."
Herman said GET-UP takes some of the credit for salary increases for its grad student workers even though the union has never met as a group with Penn's administration.
"When students work together [the administration] will occasionally listen to what they have to say," Herman said.
June 19, 2006
AFT Higher Education News
Some heavyweights in Congress have gotten behind New York University graduate workers who have been on strike for bargaining rights since November 2005. Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) are urging their colleagues to sign on to their letter of support for the workers, addressed to NYU's president. The letter urges the university to agree to reinstate its recognition of the graduate employees union, which it withdrew last year after an unfavorable National Labor Relations Board decision.
The AFT is helping to make sure the number of signers keeps growing. At the beginning of June, the AFT sent its own letter to members of Congress urging them to sign on to Congressional letters. In ignoring the NYU grad workers' request, the letter states, the university is "inconsistent with its educational mission." Moreover, "it has been soundly condemned by all stakeholders in the community: students, faculty, civil and human rights activists, the greater labor movement and a broad range of elected officials."
AFT locals are also raising the flag for their sister union. Recently the Teaching Assistants' Association/AFT at the University of Wisconsin capped a visit to Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) through the AFT's Activists for Congressional Education (ACE) program by securing their representatives' signatures.
Although universities are no longer required by law to do so, there is nothing in the NLRB decision that prevents them from recognizing bargaining units, AFT president Edward J. McElroy noted in a letter to NYU president John Sexton last November.
The Graduate Students Organizing Committee of the United Automobile Workers (GSOC/UAW) was recognized in 2000 as the collective bargaining agent for NYU graduate workers. Its collective bargaining agreement, initiated in 2002, improved wages, benefits and working conditions for employees. But when it expired in August 2005, the university withdrew the agreement and has refused to negotiate a second contract. The university's action followed a 2004 NLRB decision, reversing an earlier ruling that graduate assistants are primarily workers, not students, and entitled to collective bargaining rights.
While it is unlikely the NLRB decision will change until there is a change in the White House, the National Labor Relations Act does allow private employers to voluntarily recognize bargaining units. "The work of graduate employees is central to the educational mission of the University," writes Rep. Nadler. "These employees teach an estimated 85 percent of the undergraduate classes in the core curriculum. The work of graduate employees is valuable, and the University should value it by negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with their designated representative."
By JENNIFER HOWARD
Chronicle of Higher Education
Friday, May 26, 2006
Two Yale University professors, Ian Shapiro and Michael J. Graetz, expected to receive a 2006 Sidney Hillman Award on Tuesday at a ceremony in New York City. Instead, they got phone calls on Tuesday morning telling them that the judges had reversed the decision to honor the professors' book on the repeal of the estate tax, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight Over Taxing Inherited Wealth.
"I was stunned," said Mr. Shapiro, a professor of political science. "I'd been about to get in the car to go to the city to pick up the award."
Mr. Graetz echoed his co-author's shock. "It came out of the blue for me," he said. "Obviously, I was disappointed."
The telephone calls came from Bruce Raynor, president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which sponsors the awards. The foundation is a project of the labor union Unite Here, of which Mr. Raynor is general president. The awards and the foundation are named for Sidney Hillman, who was a leading worker-rights activist in the New Deal era and founding president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a precursor of Unite Here.
First presented in 1950, the awards honor "journalists, writers, and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good," according to the foundation's Web site.
Mr. Raynor told the authors that the last-minute reversal had been based on information that came to light about Mr. Shapiro's dealings with members of GESO, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, in its efforts to organize a graduate-student union at Yale in the 1990s. Unite Here has been involved with GESO's continuing union drive at Yale.
In an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Raynor cited allegations of "unfair labor practices" and unspecified "threats against graduate students" by Mr. Shapiro.
"It flies in the face of Sidney Hillman's beliefs and his life," he said, "to present the award to someone who had been actively engaged in resisting union-organization attempts by graduate teaching assistants to join Sidney Hillman's union."
Mr. Raynor added, "We wish we had had this information before the award announcement went out. We regret it, and we certainly don't seek to embarrass Professor Shapiro."
May 11 was graduation day at New York University (NYU), and hundreds of striking graduate assistants and their supporters in the faculty and community rallied for the last time this school year. However, they promised to return next semester and again and again until the university recognizes their desire for a union.
"Graduate employees should take great pride in the students who are receiving their diplomas today, because you taught them most everything they learned here," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told the strikers. "It is a shame we can no longer take that same kind of pride in New York University, because when it comes to fairness and equality, the bosses at NYU have forgotten everything they learned."
NYU graduate workers, who have been on strike since November, voted to join Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC)/UAW Local 2110 in 2000 and negotiated a four-year contract with the university. That contract expired last August, and the university refused to negotiate a new one and ceased recognizing the union.
The May 11 rally followed a convention and demonstration by the group April 27 at which 57 students were arrested during a sit-in.
Graduate students at New York University — on strike for months in hopes of saving their union — got support Thursday from the outgoing and incoming presidents of the American Association of University Professors, who were arrested for disorderly conduct for blocking a street in front of NYU.
Cary Nelson, the incoming president and a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in an interview before his arrest (and that of Jane Buck, the departing president) that he saw Thursday’s actions as a “ramping up of resistance” to NYU. More than 50 others were also arrested, most of them NYU graduate students, plus a few graduate students from other institutions.
While many leaders of faculty groups have backed the NYU grad students with resolutions and statements, Nelson said it was important to go beyond that. “We’re here to put our bodies where our words have been — to signal to our membership that this is a cause worthy of the long, honorable tradition of civil disobedience, that this is a fundamental issue of employee rights, and in truth this is the watershed academic labor crisis of our generation,” he added.
Nelson said that he was planning a “personal boycott” of NYU and that he would soon be encouraging other faculty members nationally to consider steps similar to those he will take, such as refusing to serve on NYU tenure review or publication review committees, refusing to speak on the campus, advising students against enrolling at graduate school or seeking employment there, and generally having “no active relationship” with the university. He said that the graduate students’ work stoppage alone — which is now rather modest as many of the students have returned to work — will not win the strike, but that a more unified effort could do so.
“People need to start making moral decisions about what to do,” said Nelson.
The conflict at NYU is over the right of graduate students at private institutions to unionize....
Fifty-seven people were arrested at a sit-in at New York University yesterday as part of an effort to pressure the university to grant its graduate teaching and research assistants union recognition.
Graduate students and union supporters were arrested an hour after the Graduate Students Organizing Committee announced that a majority of graduate teaching assistants had signed a petition saying they wanted the group to be their union.
The group, which is affiliated with the United Auto Workers, has been on strike for six months and is searching for new ways to pressure the university to grant union recognition. N.Y.U. says the strike has fizzled, asserting that only two dozen graduate teaching and research assistants are still participating, while the organizing committee insists that 200 are still involved.
In 2000, shortly after the National Labor Relations Board reversed itself and ruled that graduate teaching and research assistants were essentially employees, not students, N.Y.U. became the first and only private university to grant union recognition to its graduate students.
In a contract, the group won substantial improvements in compensation and benefits, but last August, N.Y.U. stopped recognizing and negotiating with the union. It did so after the labor relations board, which had become dominated by Bush administration appointees, reversed itself again and ruled that graduate assistants were students, not workers, and had no right to unionize.
KALAMAZOO – Teaching Assistants at Western Michigan University voted overwhelmingly today for union representation, giving themselves the right to negotiate health insurance, salary, tuition waivers, and other conditions of employment with the university administration. The vote, 290 in favor, 14 against, certifies the Teaching Assistants Union (TAU) as a collective bargaining agent affiliated with AFT Michigan, AFL-CIO. Eligible to vote were approximately 700 graduate students who work teaching, grading, and tutoring on the university's Kalamazoo campus. The election was conducted yesterday and today by the Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC).
Teaching Assistants teach many of the introductory courses and lab sections at the university while they simultaneously pursue graduate degrees. Many supported unionization because of the poor health insurance provided by the university. "Women's health care issues have been completely ignored," said Rebecca Hayes who teaches Criminal Justice at the University. Other cited salaries and tuition waivers. Overall, however, the central issue for these workers was recognition: "My department values who I am, but we need a union to have a voice within the larger university community," said Jason Trowbridge a TA in mathematics and a member of the union's organizing committee.
Like the graduate employee unions at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University, TAU is affiliated with AFT Michigan, AFT, AFL-CIO. Graduate employees have also formed unions at the University of Wisconsin -- Madison, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, all University of California campuses, and the University of Kansas. Currently, graduate employees at New York University, affiliated with the United Auto Workers, are on strike to protest NYU's refusal to recognize their union.
GET-UP/AFT, Rutgers AAUP-AFT, and TUGSA/AFT are proud to announce the dates for the 15th annual CGEU conference, which will be held in Philadelphia on August 11-13, 2006.
We plan to build on the successes of past conferences but also to engage new challenges with this year's conference. Over the past year, the CGEU has engaged in unprecedented actions of solidarity and has moved toward greater coherency as a sector of the U.S. labor movement. In that spirit, this year's conference will host panels that will move us farther toward a national and North American agenda to achieve workplace, pay, and benefit standards for graduate labor. As members of powerful labor unions across North America, we should all seek the benefit of their organizing expertise to conceive our agenda and implement it. We plan to invite union experts in bargaining, media relations, corporate campaigns, labor law, etc. to share their knowledge with us. But we will not be passive learners, for we expect to these experts to take a better understanding of the grad. union movement agenda back to their respective unions. We will also invite the leaders of our respective unions to either attend the conference or to send a high-level representative in their stead, with the intention being to engage in a inter-union dialogue about how assets can be deployed best to assist the CGEU agenda.
More details to follow...Please mark your calendars now and plan on coming to Philadelphia the second weekend in August! We're very much looking forward to seeing you.
To an outside observer, the most dramatic fact about the current strike may be that all signs suggest that the Graduate Student Organizing Committee is on the verge of a huge victory. Since this fact seems to be counterintuitive to many people, it's worth laying out the reasons I think so.
First, the Draconian threats that the administration has made - every one of which is illegal under federal labor law - are impossible to carry out. The university claims that its intimidation tactics have succeeded in scaring three-quarters of GAs into giving up the strike. This number may or may not be real - they probably have no accurate way of knowing, and given the history of administrative hyper-spin, it's probably exaggerated. But even if just 250 GAs keep striking, the administration can't afford to enact its threats. If NYU President John Sexton were to ban 250 graduate students from teaching and cut all their funding for the spring semester, some of them would be forced to drop out, and some international students would be forced to leave the country. Departments with strong participation in the union might find their graduate programs hurt. There would be an enormous outcry of protest from both graduate students and faculty.
Normally, people on strike do not get paid. That was the "punishment" that GSOC members were prepared for. But NYU has kept paying strikers for a strategic reason. Everyone knows that the National Labor Relations Board case may be re-litigated under a Democratic president. Docking the pay of strikers would make it apparent that NYU is paying GAs for work and not giving them a stipend for scholarly training. The administration's strategic choice to keep paying strikers made it easier for people to stay out. But it certainly doesn't give the administration the right to turn to the thuggish tactic of blacklisting...
About 5,000 international scholars have signed an open letter online protesting NYU’s decision to not recognize the graduate students’ union and punish those who continue striking past today’s administration-imposed deadline.
Starting with nine original signatories — including famous critical theorists and professors from Duke University, Columbia University, the University of London and several schools in the University of California system — the petition has become one of the most popular among the thousands of petitions circulating on Petitiononline.com, the website where it was posted last week. The letter harshly criticizes NYU for threatening to impose retaliatory actions against the union.
“Undermining the union itself is nothing more than Reagan-esque union-busting and so conveys and enacts hostility to student labor that can only heighten conflict and circulate a ruinous image for New York University as an unfair and indecent place of employment,” read the letter, which was conceived by University of California at Berkeley professor Judith Butler....
Graduate assistants from the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University were joined by officials from the AFL-CIO to protest NYU President John Sextons stance against the graduate students union at a speaking engagement in Baltimore, Md., yesterday morning...
The Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions is a loose-knit coalition of labor unions in the USA and Canada that represents graduate students employed as teachers, researchers, and administrative staff.