About 100 members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization are expected to demonstrate at a labor rally in New York today alongside New York University graduate students who are fighting to regain union recognition.
In GESO’s first organized action since a strike on the Yale campus last spring, members of the group will board buses to participate in the noontime rally in front of Bobst Library at Washington Square Park. An organizer for NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee, Joel Brooks, said the group expects as many as 500 NYU graduate students to participate in the rally, held in reaction to NYU administrators’ decision earlier this month not to renew their union contract. As many as 1,000 total demonstrators are anticipated at the rally, where several labor leaders, including AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, are expected to speak, Brooks said.
“We really want to send a very public message that we have very broad support, not only at NYU but in New York City and all over the country,” he said.
NYU spokesman John Beckwith said the university does not expect the rally to cause problems and administrators will uphold the rights of participants.
“The university will take whatever steps seem appropriate,” Beckwith said. “This is New York, there are a lot of demonstrations here. It’s not unusual.”
In an Aug. 5 memo to the NYU community, university officials said they decided not to renew a four-year contract with the group because of a 2004 National Labor Relations Board ruling that denied employee status to graduate teachers and researches. The university also claimed members of the group violated parts of the original contract with the university, including the stipulation that all academic decisions be left to the discretion of the administration.
“The issue is that graduate students … are not recruited as employees,” Beckman said. “This goes to the heart of the matter at NYU.”
At Yale, GESO Chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said she was shocked by NYU’s decision and is eager to support those students in their fight to regain a contract.
“I think it is really unfortunate that the New York University administration has decided to take a page out of the Yale administration’s anti-union book,” Reynolds said. “It’s shocking that in 2000 the NYU administration decided to recognize the democratic decision of their students, and then at the whim of the president of the university, they can take away their contract, take away their grievance procedure.”
In place of the contract, NYU committed itself to annual increases of $1,000 in the base stipend of doctoral students for each of the next three years. The university will continue to pay 100 percent of the student health insurance plan premiums for students, and it will maintain the current stipend level of $18,000.
Brooks said he thinks NYU’s proposal is a poor substitute for a contract.
“In any situation akin to this, the employer will [tell] the employees, ‘You don’t need a union because we’re going to treat you right,'” he said. “That’s all well and good, but that’s not a contract, and these terms were not voted on by our members.”
GESO members will hold a press conference outside the group’s headquarters on College Street at 9:15 a.m. tomorrow. Local 35 President Bob Proto and graduate students will speak before boarding buses for New York.
GESO spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’07 said members are enthusiastic about supporting fellow graduate students in New York today and hope the rally will strengthen the group’s cause among graduate students at Yale.
“What’s on the line at NYU is what’s on the line here,” Cobb said. “We will not stand by and let NYU run over its union.”
In addition to Sweeney, several other labor and political leaders will address the rally. They include United Auto Workers Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Bunn, UNITE HERE President Bruce Raynor, New York City Council member Christine Quinn, New York City Representative Robert Jackson and City Council Speaker Gifford Miller. Actress Morgan Fairchild, who starred on the “Dynasty” television show and is running for president of the Screen Actors Guild, will also speak.