Eleven members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct Wednesday at a labor rally staged at New York University.
The GESO activists were among 76 demonstrators from Columbia, NYU and other universities who were arrested at a noontime rally organized to protest the NYU administration’s decision last month not to renew its four-year contract with graduate teaching assistants. The presidents of the AFL-CIO and UNITE HERE as well as the secretary-treasurer of the United Auto Workers were among those arrested at the rally, which reportedly drew more than 1,000 protestors outside Bobst Library in Washington Square Park.
New York City police arrested the 76 demonstrators for blocking a sidewalk in front of the library, which houses NYU President John Sexton’s office. NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul J. Browne said in a statement that the demonstrators had informed police in advance that they planned to engage in civil disobedience and intended to be arrested. They were charged with disorderly conduct and ordered to appear in court on Oct. 3 and 4.
The act of civil disobedience followed on the heels of rallies that NYU’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee held last spring in anticipation of the administration’s decision not to renew the contract.
“We wanted to do an act of civil disobedience that was symbolic,” GSOC organizer Joel Brooks said.
NYU spokesman John Beckman said campus officials did not order the arrests and wanted to uphold protestors’ rights throughout the rally.
“NYU was perfectly happy to have them sit there … NYU had bottled water and granola bars out there for the protestors so they could be safe and comfortable,” Beckman said. “The arrests were carefully stage-managed with the union and the police department.”
Yale’s GESO Chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07, who was arrested at the rally, said she thinks the NYU protest will strengthen the graduate student unionization movement.
“I think that there’s a lot at stake in winning that union at New York University,” Reynolds said. “It was the only graduate student union at a private university, and I think winning back that union and protecting that contract gives graduate students at other institutions the hope that they can have a union too.”
But Yale officials said the demonstration at NYU will not affect its stance against graduate student unionization.
“The whole problem with the premise of graduate student unionization is that it can affect the purity of an academic relationship that one would expect at a university,” Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said.
GESO member Melissa Stuckey GRD ’06, who was arrested for the third time for civil disobedience, said the rally and arrests were a good start to the school year for GESO members.
“I think we demonstrated our commitment by going to New York,” Stuckey said. “For us it’s a matter of continuing the fight and starting that fight on the first day of school here.”
A lawyer for United Auto Workers, the parent union of NYU’s GSOC, is expected to represent the 76 arrested demonstrators in court, Brooks said. The UAW lawyer, from the New York labor law firm Levy Ratner, is aiming to get all the charges dismissed, he said.