Leading mayoral candidates urge NYU President Sexton to respect union rights for RAs and TA


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Letter adds to growing public scrutiny of controversial NYU administratio

NEW YORK — Top mayoral candidates have sent a letter today urging President John Sexton to respect the majority choice of graduate, research and teaching assistants (GAs, RAs and TAs) for union representation at New York University (NYU) and Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly).

Signed by Christine Quinn, Bill De Blasio, William Thompson, John Liu and Sal Albanese, the letter says: “We urge the university to engage now in a fair process for graduate, research, and teaching assistants to choose UAW representation, including a public commitment by the university to remain neutral on their decision on unionization and to proceed immediately with good-faith bargaining upon certification that a majority have chosen UAW representation.”

When the law required NYU to respect the right to collective bargaining, a majority of GAs, RAs and TAs chose representation by the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/United Auto Workers (GSOC/UAW) and bargained improvements to pay, benefits and rights in a 2002 contract that the university and the union both hailed as a landmark agreement. In 2005, however, the NYU administration took advantage of weakened law to deny this right and refused to bargain a second contract.

Despite NYU using every possible tactic to deny union rights since then, a majority of RAs and TAs have consistently supported representation by GSOC/UAW, including two public demonstrations of majority support in the 2012-2013 academic year alone. After the announcement that the Polytechnic Institute in Brooklyn would be merging with NYU, a majority of its graduate employees formed Scientists and Engineers Together UAW (SET/UAW) as their union.

“We value the contributions the university makes to our city as an institution of higher education and as an economic engine” the mayoral candidates add. “However, we find the years of delaying the rights of all graduate employees to choose union representation unacceptable and we encourage the university to do the right thing.”

“Our desire to engage in collective bargaining with NYU will not go away,” said Peiyang Chen, a doctoral candidate in chemistry who has worked as a TA and RA. “Last year’s unilateral cuts to our health benefits make clearer than ever that the only way we have a fair say in the conditions under which we carry out quality teaching and research is through collective bargaining.”

“The resolve of these workers after this many years is remarkable and inspiring,” said Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, which includes New York City. “We are glad to see that such a distinguished group of community leaders recognizes the injustice being imposed on this dedicated workforce by the NYU administration.”

Sexton has come under increasing public scrutiny in recent months, led by faculty opposing his NYU 2031 expansion plan and voting “no confidence” in his leadership. The growing outcry led the NYU Board of Trustees to announce recently that Sexton would not continue after his appointment ends in 2016 and that they were committed to being more responsive to campus constituencies.

Amid growing pressure from GAs, RAs and TAs last year, NYU told a delegation led by Quinn it would await action by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) before deciding how to proceed on the issue of unionization.

“Waiting for the NLRB is not necessary,” says the candidates’ letter. “Moreover, continuing to delay graduate employees’ rights undermines the values of the university and will generate increasing rancor in the campus and surrounding community.”

The UAW represents more than 45,000 academic workers across the United States, including GAs, RAs and TAs at the University of Massachusetts, University of Washington, University of California and California State University.

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