Yale graduate students and members of three local unions traveled to New York University on Thursday afternoon for a rally in support of teaching assistants who have been on strike there since November.
This week, NYU sent letters to several strikers announcing that their stipends would be revoked for the next two semesters, but representatives of the NYU Graduate Students Organizing Committee said the strike will continue until the university grants them a second contract. About 100 representatives from Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization, Yale technical, clerical and service employees unions Locals 34 and 35, and New Haven hotel and restaurant union Local 217, joined in a rally in front of Bobst Library yesterday, where they heard speeches from labor leaders and several New York City politicians.
GESO spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’07 said approximately 1,000 people, including graduate students from Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers, as well as representatives from local New York unions, participated in the rally. Roger Toussaint, the head of the New York City transit workers union, and Christine Quinn, speaker of the New York City Council, addressed the crowd, Cobb said.
“It was really, really encouraging to hear them speak about what the significance of the strike was for education,” he said.
NYU spokesman John Beckman, who confirmed that a “handful” of students have lost their stipends so far, said most coursework has begun for the new semester.
“Teaching and learning is going forward at NYU,” Beckman said. “Classes are meeting. There’s very, very little disruption.”
Yale Graduate School Dean Jon Butler declined to comment on the NYU strike. During past GESO job actions, including the five-day strike last April, the University has not withheld student stipends as punishment for strikers.
Local 35 President Bob Proto said he thinks NYU will eventually recognize the graduate student union again because of growing public support of the teaching assistants, especially after the stipends were withheld.
“The struggle is going to be escalating,” Proto said. “I think their chances are good as our support grows and the NYU administration is looked at every day in a more negative way.”
The NYU graduate students went on strike to protest the university’s decision not to recognize the teaching assistants’ union for a second contract after the first one expired last summer. A Nov. 28 letter from NYU President John Sexton notified students that their stipends would be stopped if they did not return to work by Dec. 5, but striking students continued to receive payment until this week. So far, six students have received letters or e-mails informing them that their stipends will stop immediately, GSOC spokesperson Susan Valentine said.
“They refuse to recognize us as workers, but they’re docking our pay for the work,” Valentine said.
Although only a few strikers have lost their stipends so far, Valentine said hundreds of graduate assistants who serve as teachers or graders in undergraduate classes are still on strike. While their stipends are withheld for the next two semesters, students will continue to receive tuition remission and health care from the university, according to the letter sent to the students.
Valentine said she thinks it is unfair that NYU is pre-emptively punishing graduate students by withholding their stipends for two semesters, whether or not the teaching assistants are still on strike next fall. Cobb described the strategy as “classic corporate union-busting.”
Beckman said the graduate students who lost their stipends serve as primary instructors for a class, not as discussion section leaders or graders. The university identifies classes that are not meeting based on student and parent complaints and empty classrooms, Beckman said.
Striking teaching assistants who lose their stipends will receive $200 per week from the United Auto Workers, GSOC’s parent union.