Frequently Asked Questions

On December 10th, 2014, Student Employees at The New School – United Auto Workers (SENS-UAW) delivered a letter to President David Van Zandt requesting that The New School administration recognize our will to form a union, and requesting their neutrality in the formation process. (See photos of the action, and footage). Since then, we have pursued the following courses of action:

  • On December 17th 2014, SENS-UAW filed a petition with the NLRB at the same time as the Graduate Workers of Columbia (see Photos).
  • On January 20th  2015, we provided written cause as to why our petition for unionization should be considered in spite of Brown University, 342 N.L.R.B. 483 (2004), which sets a legal precedent that denies recognition of students in private universities as workers.
  • On January 27th 2015, The New School filed a motion to have our case dismissed. A hearing took place in from April 20th to May 11th, and the regional NLRB director granted The New School’s request on July 30th. As of August 13th, we are appealing this decision at the national NLRB board and hope to overturn the previous Brown decision, which would open the road to collective bargaining at The New School and all other private universities in the country. All public files for our case are available on the NLRB website and our website.
  • At the same time, we are asking the administration to agree to a voluntary election process through the American Arbitration Association, hoping to thereby empower SENS-UAW to enter into collective bargaining on behalf of student employees at The New School without delay. NYU currently has such an arrangement between their union and the university.
  • On May 16, 2016, we delivered an open letter to President Van Zandt signed by a large majority of RAs and TAs urging the administration to respect our choice by agreeing to a fair, neutral election and committing to bargain with us when a majority vote yes for SENS-UAW.
  • August 23, 2016.  NLRB overturned the Brown decision in and restored the right to collective bargaining in the Columbia University case. While the Board did not rule on the New School case, they are expected to take action soon.
  • As of Fall 2016, we expect action from the Board on the SENS-UAW petition any day.



Q: Who are we?

The current union campaign is being driven by student employees from all divisions within NSSR, as well as from NSPE, Parsons and Lang. Our campaign is affiliated with the UAW (United Auto Workers), which has been a strong partner with student workers across the US. This is a high point for academic worker organizing, and students from private universities all over the Northeast have come together with The New School, NYU and Columbia to strategize and lend support to each other’s campaigns.

Q: Why are we organizing?

We currently have yearly competitions for precarious jobs that lack a living wage, health benefits, and sick days, while often requiring unpaid overtime hours. We want to change that by addressing these and other concerns through collective bargaining.

Student workers at NYU have successfully organized: In their first contract they achieved minimum pay rate increases of 38%, health care, and many other benefits. Their recently concluded second contract gave them the highest combined compensation (stipend plus salary) of any university in the country. We deserve that as well, and we can make it happen together!

Q: What jobs and positions are being included?

We seek to represent  student workers holding instructional and research-related positions: Teaching Fellows (TFs), Teaching Assistants (TAs), Graduate Assistants (GAs), Research Assistants (RAs), etc. We currently do not represent student workers engaged in purely “administrative work” in the offices of The New School such as academic technology or the school’s administration offices. However, feel free to contact us if you are one of those workers and have a desire to organize them.

Q: How can I join or get in contact with one of you?

Contact us at to request to sign a SENS-UAW card.  Once signed up, you are welcome to join our meetings and participate in any of our efforts. You can also follow our activities on twitter (@SENSUAW) and by liking our Facebook page:

Q: Where can I get news and details on the status of the campaign?

Look at our website where we post news on our case at the National Labor Relations Board. Or even better, talk to or e-mail one of our organizers!

Q: Why are we part of the UAW?

There have been long discussions among New School students about whether to organize independently or with an established union. As active organizers in SENS, we believe that drawing on the experience and resources of the UAW will help give us our best shot at a strong union and a good contract. The UAW is actively organizing graduate students across the US, including those at NYU and Columbia University. The UAW has a long history of supporting organizing by academic workers in this region, including a 16-year commitment to GSOC/UAW at NYU, where they have just reached an agreement that includes better wages, healthcare and family benefits.

Q: Who will be bargaining on my behalf?

Once the union is formed, we will elect a bargaining committee from among student workers.  That bargaining committee will work with UAW representatives experienced in negotiating contracts like those at NYU.  A contract will only go into effect after student workers vote to approve what the elected bargaining committee negotiates with The New School.

Q: I am worried that if we get a pay raise, the administration will cut down the number of positions.

There is no evidence that organizing unions at other universities has reduced the numbers of jobs.

Q: Does the University have the resources to improve working conditions?

Collective bargaining only means we would negotiate over our pay and conditions, and how much of a priority they are in the overall budget of the university.  And while the administration claims to have budget constraints, President Van Zandt was the 15th best-paid private college president in his first year on the job (at a middle sized institution). Furthermore, we have one of the highest paid provosts in the country and one of the highest paid housing directors in the country. These facts suggest that the budget constraints could be managed differently: perhaps we should be talking about distribution, not shortages.

Q: What is the process of establishing a union step by step?

  1. Compile a list of all the graduate student employees at the university. (DONE)
  2. Garner the support of a majority of employees for the formation of a union. (Signing of union cards) (DONE—more than 74% of us signed up)
  3. Win recognition of our union through a voluntary process that the New School administration agrees to (which we have requested) or through certification after an election administered by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).  We have pursued both possible avenues of recognition. (In Progress)
  4. Once the union is formed, SENS will form a “bargaining committee” through open elections.
  5. The bargaining committee will negotiate a contract with the university.
  6. The contract will be subject to a vote by the employees before becoming legally binding.

Q: How will the contract terms (i.e., wages, benefits, etc.) be negotiated?

If the union is recognized (whether through private election  or through the NLRB), the contract terms are determined through a negotiation process between the administration and the “bargaining committee.”

Q: Who determines the contract terms SENS will bargain for?

The elected bargaining committee will survey student workers to determine priorities.  Based on those surveys, the committee will develop an initial bargaining agenda that student workers would vote to approve prior to negotiations. If an agreement is reached with the administration, student workers would vote to approve the agreement as their first contract.

Q: Will there be union dues? If so, how much will those be?

UAW dues are currently 1.44% of gross income while working.  However, we only start paying dues after we have voted to ratify our first contract.  Almost half of our dues would go toward supporting the work of our local union, and dues we pay to the UAW would provide resources for legal support, organizing, health care expertise, etc.

Right now, the UAW resources supporting our campaign at The New School come from the roughly 400,000 dues-paying members across the US, Canada and Puerto Rico.  

Q: What will be the requirements for union membership (e.g., attend meetings, pay dues, other things I can’t think of)? Will union membership be mandatory of all TA/RA//GA/TFs? If not, will there be any ramifications of not joining?

One of the issues we negotiate in our first contract is whether student workers are obligated to pay dues or fees. The strongest union contract contains requirements that everyone either joins or contributes financially to the union so that everyone shares the cost of representation equally and we have the most resources to defend our interests. A contract ratified by a majority would affect every academic student worker in the “bargaining unit” (all TA/TF/GA/RAs).

Membership in the union does not require attending meetings, but the meetings are open to all members. It’d be great to have you!


Q: What is the status of our NLRB case? 

In a historic move, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently overturned the 2004 Brown University decision and restored the right to collective bargaining for RAs and TAs at private universities in the Columbia University case.  Though we filed our NLRB petition for SENS-UAW to be our union at the same time as the Columbia workers, the Board did not rule on our case.  We expect them to take action any day.

The Columbia ruling is huge because it restores a right that was originally affirmed this in 2000, in a case at New York University, after which RAs and TAs there voted to unionize and negotiated major improvements – including a 38 percent increase to minimum stipends and paid health insurance for the first time – in the first-ever union contract for RAs and TAs at a private university.  George W. Bush appointees to the NLRB took away this right in a 2004 ruling regarding a similar petition at Brown University, saying that RAs and TAs were primarily students and that, therefore, private universities had no obligation to bargain with unions of RAs and TAs. As of August 23, 2016, the Brown decision is overturned.

Q: When do we the NLRB to act on our case?

Given the Columbia decision, we expect the Board to take action any day.

Q: If the NLRB grants us bargaining rights, will The New School have to recognize the Union?

If the NLRB grants us bargaining rights, like at Columbia, the ruling itself will not require The New School to recognize and bargain with the Union.  It would trigger a process where the NLRB would schedule an election in which RAs and TAs would vote on having SENS-UAW be our Union. If a majority votes “yes,” then the NLRB would certify SENS-UAW as our Union, and The New School would be legally obligated to bargain in good faith with our elected bargaining committee for a contract.

Q: If the NLRB holds an election, who can vote?

If the NLRB affirms our union rights, part of the decision would be determining the “bargaining unit,” the group of workers who are eligible to unionize.  Those included in that defined unit would be eligible to vote.  At The New School, based on majority support from all parts of campus, the Union has petitioned to represent all RAs and TAs.

Q: When would the vote take place?

Details such as time, place and who is eligible to vote are worked out between the union, the university, and the NLRB. If the decision comes soon, we would expect to have the election in the Fall semester.

Q: How does the vote work?

The election is administered by the NLRB. Typically, the vote would be held onsite at the university and all eligible voters would be notified in advance of the times and locations. The ballot would ask voters to indicate “yes” to representation by SENS-UAW or “no union.”  The vote is by secret ballot.

Q: How many people have to vote yes for us to establish SENS-UAW as our Union

It takes a simple majority of those voting to establish SENS-UAW as our Union, but if we want to build momentum to win a strong contract, it will be important to have support from a majority of all eligible RAs and TAs.

Q: If SENS-UAW wins the election, what happens next?

After a successful election, we would do the following to prepare for and engage in the process of negotiating a contract with The New School: nominate and elect a bargaining committee from among RAs and TAs; based on existing and further surveys, the committee would develop initial bargaining goals; the committee would ask for RAs and TAs to vote on those goals; the committee would work to schedule dates with the University to start contract negotiations; when the committee has negotiated a tentative agreement with the University they feel they can recommend, RAs and TAs would vote whether to ratify it as the first contract; after the contract is ratified, the membership would elect representatives who help run the Union and help members with any problems they have in the workplace.