Who are we?
We are the union of academic student workers (ASWs) at The New School, representing all student workers engaged in instructional and research work. This includes but is not limited to Research Assistants, Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Course Assistants, and Tutors. We won our union in May 2017 with a landslide majority (99.6%) of academic student workers voting in favor of unionization.
The union campaign has been driven by ASWs from all five of our colleges: the New School for Social Research (NSSR), the Schools of Public Engagement (NSPE), Parsons, the College of Performing Arts (CPA), and Eugene Lang. Our campaign is affiliated with the UAW (United Auto Workers), which has been a strong partner with student workers across the United States. 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.
Why are we organizing?
Without a collective bargaining agreement, academic student workers have virtually no job protections. We lack the security of a living wage, health benefits, grievance procedures, and sick days. We can improve our work conditions – and thus the conditions of our academic community – by addressing these and other concerns through collective bargaining.
We are part of a growing movement. In December 2016, Columbia research and teaching assistants 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 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!
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 School and 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.
In September 2017, we democratically elected our bargaining committee, composed of six academic student workers who make demands at the bargaining table on behalf of the membership.
What jobs and positions are included in the union?
SENS-UAW is composed of academic student workers engaged in instructional and research work: Teaching Fellows (TFs), Teaching Assistants (TAs), Course Assistants (CAs), Research Assistants and Associates (RAs), and Tutors. We currently do not represent student workers engaged in administrative work in the offices of The New School. However, if you are an administrative student worker and have a desire to organize, please get in touch.
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. Drawing on the experience and resources of the UAW helps give us our best shot at a strong union and a good contract. The UAW is actively organizing graduate students across the United States, including those at NYU and Columbia. 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 their collective bargaining agreement includes better wages, healthcare, and family benefits.
Who is bargaining on my behalf?
In September 2017, we elected our first bargaining committee, comprised of six ASWs. The bargaining committee is assisted throughout contract negotiations by experienced negotiators from the local union and our regional UAW representatives. An agreement that our bargaining committee reaches with the administration will only go into effect once ASWs vote to ratify the contract.
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.
Does the university have the resources to improve working conditions?
Collective bargaining only means we negotiate over our pay and conditions, and how much of a priority they are in the overall budget of the university. Although the administration claims to have budget constraints, President David Van Zandt is one of the top ten highest-paid private college presidents in the country. 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.
What are the next steps of our union?
When our bargaining committee has negotiated a tentative agreement with the University they feel they can recommend, ASWs will vote whether to ratify it as our first contract. 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.
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.
What is the requirement for union membership (e.g., attend meetings, pay dues, other things I can’t think of)?
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. Our first contract, ratified by a majority of ASWs, would affect every academic student worker in the bargaining unit.
Membership in the union does not require attending meetings, but the meetings are open to all members. It’d be great to have you!