NYU Teaching Assistants Win Major Gains in First-Ever Contract at Private University

[Even though national precedent sides with the GEO and the right of graduate employees to organize unions, the University of Illinois administration continues to stonewall. As the benefits outlined below demonstrate, refusing to recognize a union could make UIUC less competitive and attractive as compared to other schools.This article is reprinted from the Coalition of Graduate Employee Unions listserv.]
Teaching, research and graduate assistants at New York University — members of UAW Local 2110 — won major economic gains in the first-ever union contract covering graduate employees at a private university.
“This contract is amazing. We got major wage increases, 100% health care coverage and real improvements in our working conditions,” said Elena Gorfinkel, a teaching assistant in the NYU Cinema Studies Department and a member of the bargaining committee that reached a tentative agreement with NYU administrators late in the evening on Monday, January 28.
“This is why we formed our union”, said Gorfinkel. “We knew from the beginning that something dramatic had to be done about stipends, and we accomplished that in this contract.” Over the life of the agreement, the average minimum stipend for NYU graduate student employees in the arts and sciences will increase by 38%.
“For me, health care is a key issue”, Julen Esteban-Pretel, an international student who is a teaching assistant in the NYU economics department. “For the first time, the university is going to pay 100% of our health care. That means peace of mind for me and my colleagues.”
Nearly a third of those covered by the tentative agreement will receive raises of $5,000 per year or more as a result of new minimum stipends and wage increases. Some 1,300 NYU teaching, research and graduate assistants are covered by the proposed agreement, which will be voted on by union members on January 30.
“Academic student employees at NYU worked long and hard to win this contract. To have reached this historic agreement without a strike is a big first step to establishing a productive relationship with the University,” said UAW Vice President Elizabeth Bunn, who heads the union’s 100,000-member Technical, Office and Professional (TOP) Department. “Our members at NYU will now be treated the way professional educators should be treated at one of our nation’s top universities, which can only enhance excellence in education.”
With strong support from the International Union, UAW, teaching and research assistants at NYU won the right to form a union and bargain with their employer in a historic National Labor Relations Board decision issued on November 1, 2000.
Over 15,000 academic student employees are UAW members at the University of California and the University of Massachusetts, and organizing campaigns are underway at the University of Washington, Columbia University, Brown University, and Tufts University.
“A lot of people thought you could never win an agreement at a private university,” said Phil Wheeler, director of UAW Region 9A, which includes New York City and New England. “In the UAW, however, we’re pretty good at doing things other people say can’ t be done.”
Under the terms of the tentative agreement, PhD candidates and Master’s Degree candidates in the Arts and Sciences and the core undergraduate curriculum will receive a minimum salary of $15,000 in the 2001 academic year, retroactive to September 1. The minimum salary will increase to $16,000 in the 2002 academic year, $17,000 in 2003, and $18,000 in 2004. All graduate assistants will receive an increase; those earning more than the minimum will receive a 3.5% increase in each of the first three years in place of the minimum salary, and a 4% increase in 2004.
NYU also agreed to address health care, a major concern of graduate assistants. For the first time, the University will pay 100% of health care costs, beginning in the fall of 2002. For the current academic year, retroactive to 2001, the University will pay 50% of health care costs. The tentative agreement between UAW Local 2110 and NYU also includes full fee waivers for all academic student employees; university-paid training courses, including English as a second language; a guarantee that approved appointments will not be rescinded; an increase in funds available for child care, and a standard work week of 20 hours per week with increased compensation for those who are required to work extra hours. In addition, all pre-existing benefits will be continued.