Q: Who are we?
The union campaign has being driven by student employees from all divisions within NSSR, 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?
Currently, we compete annually 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.
We are part of a growing movement. In December 2016, Columbia RAs and TAs voted to join the UAW in a overwhelming landslide victory. 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 is Collective Bargaining?
Collective bargaining is a process, recognized and protected by federal law, that equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Under collective bargaining, we elect representatives to negotiate on equal footing with The New Schooland put the terms of our employment into a legally binding contract. Through collective bargaining, graduate employee unions have successfully negotiated improvements in wages, hours, benefits, and terms and conditions of employment.
Without collective bargaining, The New School has unilateral power to change our conditions or decide whether or not to make improvements. For example, The New School currently decides unilaterally whether or not to make sure we get paid on time or whether our stipends keep up with the cost of university housing.
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), Course Assistants (CAs) Research Assistants and Associates (RAs) and Student Assistants 3 at Parsons. We currently do not represent student workers engaged in purely “administrative work” in the offices of The New School. However, feel free to contact us if you are one of those workers and have a desire to organize them.
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 from the 65+ campuses that have organized unions at other universities that the numbers of jobs has gone down.
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?
After a successful election, we will do the following to prepare for and engage in the process of negotiating a contract with The New School:
- elect a bargaining committee from among The New School student employees
- based on existing and further surveys, the committee will develop initial bargaining proposals; before bargaining commences, we, the student employees, will vote to ratify these goals;
- the committee will meet with university representatives to negotiate in pursuit of our bargaining goals;
- when our committee has negotiated a tentative agreement with the University they feel they can recommend, student employees will vote whether to ratify it as our first contract;
- The bargaining committee will be aided throughout by experienced negotiators from the local union and our regional UAW representatives;
- after the contract is ratified, the membership will elect representatives who help run the Union and help members with any problems they have in the workplace
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: What contract gains have been made in other universities?
Collective bargaining equalizes the power relationship between employees and their employer. Without collective bargaining, Columbia decides unilaterally whether to make improvements, keep things the same, or take things away. For example, Columbia decided unilaterally to replace our dental coverage with a far inferior option for the 2016-17 year and they continue to decide unilaterally whether we get paid on time, whether we get annual pay increases that keep up with housing costs, etc. With a union, we harness our collective power and negotiate as equals with Columbia to reach a legally binding contract that Columbia cannot change without our consent. Read here for examples of what academic workers have won through collective bargaining at other universities.
The process allows us to decide democratically what issues to prioritize in these negotiations. As such, what RAs and TAs have won through collective bargaining at other universities varies, but in general, gains have been made in minimum stipends, health benefits, workload protections, and family benefits. At NYU, for example, under their first contract in 2002, they won:
- 38% increase in minimum stipends (which also led Columbia to increase stipends at the time), and a 15% increase for the small number already making more than the minimum;
- Elimination of health insurance premium sharing (a savings of $1000 annually);f
- guaranteed tuition/fee waivers for all graduate employees covered by the contract;
- a fair grievance procedure;
- protection against having RA/TA appointments withdrawn at the last minute;
- workload protections;
- increased child care subsidies; and
- $100 per day for required pre-semester training or orientation.
Additional improvements established in the 2015 NYU contract include:
- guaranteed annual minimum increases on total compensation, which protects and insures increases in stipends and other pay. During the current academic year, funded PhD TAs who teach both semesters will receive at least $37,783;
- implementation of a family healthcare fund to provide up to 75% of premium subsidies;
- implementation of a childcare fund, which provided a benefit to bargaining unit members of $2,140 per child in the first year of the contract;
- an improved dental benefit amounting to a savings of $240 per year to each graduate employee covered by the contract; and
- reinstatement of most of the protections negotiated in the 2002 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: 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: 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.