Graduate Student Employees United of Columbia University and New York University’s United Auto Workers Local 7902 are holding strikes this week. The GSEU strike, which leaders said will be indefinite until the group is recognized as a union, began Monday morning. The UAW plans to begin their strike at NYU Wednesday if the group cannot negotiate a contract with the administration by that time.
“So far the strike looks beautiful, the energy is up, people are really excited it’s more than we could have hoped for,” Columbia Graduate School alumnus and GSEU staff member David Carpio said.
Mary Reynolds, chairwoman of Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization, said the strikes at both campuses are necessary and reasonable responses to administrators.
“We honestly support the graduate students at Columbia and their efforts to win recognition for their union,” she said. “The shift to a corporate model is really damaging to the quality of education.”
GESO has been trying to organize teaching and research assistants at Yale for over a decade. Some Yale graduate students went on strike for one week last March alongside Yale’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, and workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Technical Office Professional Local 2110 is striking in sympathy with GSEU, and graduate students from the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers University will visit to support the strike later in the week, GSEU Organizing Committee member David Maden said.
GSEU member Maggie Williams said she hopes the National Labor Relations Board will support the group’s efforts.
“If the Labor Board sides with Columbia, it’ll hurt graduate students across the nation,” Williams said. “One of our goals is to work against that by making sure we get recognition before the Labor Board can start limiting our rights.”
The conflict at Columbia began when GSEU held an election to form a union in March 2002, Williams said. Administrators refused to count the votes after the election, she said. Last month, the graduate students tried again to form a union — this time, by filling out union authorization cards. New York Senator David Paterson declared that a majority of the students had filled out cards, thereby securing a union. But Columbia officials refused to recognize the union, Williams said.
In addition to receiving support from the clerical unions, GSEU is receiving heavy support from the undergraduates, Carpio said.
“The undergraduates have been amazingly supportive of us,” Carpio said. “The [Columbia Daily] Spectator has endorsed not only our right to unionize, but endorsed our strike.”
But Columbia sophomore Zach Luck said many undergraduates feel unaffected by the strike.
“I think there’s a lot of people who have blown the whole thing off,” Luck said. “They see it as just having one or two less classes.”
The Office of Public Affairs at Columbia was not available for comment, but a statement posted on their web site Monday said graduate students are not primarily employees but students
“Because of their student status, it is our position that graduate students are not eligible to be represented by a union under the provisions of the National Labor Relations Act,” the statement said.
The strike at NYU is led by the adjunct staff of the United Auto Workers. The adjuncts organized in 2002 and has been bargaining since September 2002 for a contract, International Representative for UAW Scott Sommer said.
“The administration hasn’t seen it necessary to treat the adjuncts with respect,” Sommer said.
Undergraduates at NYU have shown support through a variety of ways, Sommer said. An NYU Adjunct Fan Club has emerged, and other students have designed t-shirts and buttons to hand out on campus.
Adjunct Fan Club member Sonia Lazreg said the campus is full of “excitement and suspense.”
“A lot of people are nervous, adjuncts and administration alike,” Lazreg said. “But student support for the strike is very high and some departments are also supportive.”
The NYU administration was unavailable for comment on the upcoming strike, but NYU spokesman John Beckman posted a statement on-line on April 15.
“We have been making progress recently in mediation, so we feel that it is unnecessary and regrettable that the United Auto Workers have embarked on this course,” Beckman wrote.
Administrators at both universities have declined to communicate with the two groups since Monday, strikers said.