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."
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.