NYU Graduate Union Votes for Change by Samuel Feldblum
Brooklyn Rail, October 3, 2014
After months of negotiation with the school failed to produce a labor agreement for the G.S.O.C. during the spring, the Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (A.W.D.U.) swept elections for positions on the bargaining committee at the beginning of the fall semester. Running on a platform of increased democratization of union activities and increased transparency of negotiations, the A.W.D.U.galvanized the graduate student body, with voter turnout much higher than during the previous round of elections. Their opponents, Make History Again, did not lose the support that had earlier put them in charge but were swept out of office by hundreds of new voters supporting A.W.D.U.
Now armed with a mandate to implement their more ground-up, participatory approach, A.W.D.U. looks to get a contract in place without ceding the overly generous concessions offered to the school during the last round of negotiations. Foci range from “bread-and-butter” issues like wage increases, health insurance coverage—including coverage for family members—and protections for lost income due to cancelled classes to more specialized issues of child-care assistance, lactation rooms, and stability for international students in job placement. Special attention is also being given to the conditions of workers at the Polytechnic Institute. When interviewed, the bargainers-elect—David Klassen, Ayesha Omer, Shelly Ronen, and Ella Wind—expressed optimism that the increasingly energized base would be able to secure such a strong contract. The input and zeal of more members, they hope, will overcome the weakened position of the outgoing administration and result in a more favorable deal. Their strategy is one of “revival from below.”2
“Everyone needs to be reading the blog of the bargaining committee and knowing what’s going on, who are the main characters and what we’re up against,” explained Ronen. “And people should come to bargaining sessions. That’s going to be the real fun. I want to sit across the table from negotiators with a bunch of excited colleagues in my unit standing behind me, backing me up—and holding me accountable.” Maintaining the energy of the campaign will be essential for theA.W.D.U. committee members if they hope to achieve the robust package of concessions that they aim for.
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