The goal of GSOC-UAW is to re-establish collective bargaining with NYU and regain the democratic voice we deserve to improve our working lives.
Collective bargaining is a process that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, we will elect representatives to negotiate with NYU and put the terms of our employment into a binding contract. With collective bargaining, graduate employee unions can negotiate for improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.
Without collective bargaining, NYU has unilateral power to change our conditions. For example, they made cuts to our health benefits in Fall 2012. With collective bargaining, the university would have to negotiate any changes to our working conditions and benefits with us. They could not make unilateral changes.
There are recognized graduate employee unions at more than 60 campuses nationwide, including the University of Massachusetts, SUNY, Rutgers University, the University of California, the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of Michigan.
Collective bargaining gives us the power to negotiate with NYU and allows us to decide democratically what issues to prioritize in these negotiations.
As an example, when we had collective bargaining in 2002, GSOC-UAW negotiated dramatic improvements to graduate employee conditions: a nearly 40% average increase to stipends, the establishment of fully-paid health insurance premiums, workload protections, appointment security provisions, and numerous other important rights. We have maintained some of the economic gains we won in that first contract, even after Bush administration policies allowed NYU to stop negotiating with our Union, but without real collective bargaining the administration remains free to make unilateral changes like the Fall 2012 cuts to our health benefits.
Other graduate employee unions across the US and Canada have also successfully improved stipends, healthcare and other benefits, workload and job safety protections and other important rights. For example, unionized graduate employees at the University of California (represented by UAW, Local 2865) have negotiated a contract that provides:
Under collective bargaining in the UAW, graduate employees would be surveyed in order to find out what we want to see included in a contract. We also elect representatives, who are fellow teaching and research assistants, to a bargaining committee. Guided by the feedback in the surveys, the bargaining committee will sit down with the administration and negotiate a tentative contract. Once a tentative agreement is reached, GSOC-UAW members must vote to accept or reject the contract before it goes into effect.
Dues are important to any union because they provide the financial resources necessary to equalize power with the employer. In the UAW we have democratic control over when we start paying membership dues because no one will pay any dues until after we successfully negotiate a contract and democratically approve that contract. After we vote to approve our first contract, union members will pay just 1.5% of our gross salary in dues during semesters when we have jobs covered under the contract.
Dues support a variety of resources that will give us the clout to represent our members. These include educational, legal, negotiating, and other membership services. Dues also contribute to organizing new groups of workers, the strike fund, and political action. In fact, right now, the dues of other UAW members are funding our own organizing campaign.
International students have the same legal right to join a union as US citizens. The visa requirement that international students may only accept employment associated with the university they attend in no way compromises their right to belong to a union that represents them in the workplace. No graduate employee union has reported any complications among their members arising from the dual status of being both an international student and a unionized employee.
Participation in political activities such as picketing, rallies, leafleting, and demonstrations, is protected under the Constitution for those residing in the US on international student visas, just as it is for US citizens.
Yes, in 2000 a majority of grad employees at NYU voted for GSOC-UAW to be our union, and then in January 2002, we successfully completed negotiations for our first contract at NYU. But the Bush-appointed Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) changed the law a few years later to allow NYU to stop recognizing our union. The good news is that the Obama-appointed NLRB announced in June 2012 that it is revisiting that decision, and we hope we'll soon have another chance to vote for GSOC-UAW as our union.
Our union, GSOC-UAW, negotiated its first contract with the NYU administration in January 2002. We won for the first time many of the benefits that grad employees at NYU continue to enjoy today, but also many benefits that NYU has since rescinded.