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NYU Grad Assistants Choose a Voice with UAW

Some 1,700 graduate student employees at New York University are set to become the first unionized private university graduate assistants in the nation after the National Labor Relations Board's Nov. 15 certification of their choice of the UAW in an April 2000 election.

But the NYU administration has yet to announce whether it will abide by the NLRB's decision or continue its nearly two-year battle to deny student employees a voice at work.

"This victory has been a long time coming and we are now ready to speak in a united voice to the university. It's time to end long hours at low pay and inadequate benefits," Kimberly Johnson, a member of the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/UAW, said in a statement.

In early 1999, GSOC/UAW approached the NYU administration in an attempt to reach a card-check agreement, in which the union would be recognized as the graduate assistants' bargaining agent if a majority signed union authorization cards. But NYU refused and argued before the NLRB that students had no right to organize. The election was held in April 2000 after an NLRB regional director found the students did have the right to join a union, but the ballots were not counted until the full NLRB ruled on the NYU administration's appeal of the regional ruling.

"Now that every roadblock, legalistic and otherwise, that the university was able to create has been overcome, it's appropriate that NYU do what thousands of other employers do all the timeŚrespect their workforce and bargain constructively for a mutually beneficial contract," said Phil Wheeler, UAW Region 9-A director.

The NYU graduate employees join a growing trend at colleges and universities around the nation. UAW represents about 15,000 student employees at eight University of California and two University of Massachusetts campuses. Grad assistants at more than two dozen state-supported campuses have formed unions.

Graduate workers at private universities and colleges who are seeking a voice on the job hope the NLRB's ruling in the NYU case will boost their opportunities to organize.

"The U.S. labor movement stands strongly behind academic student employees in their effort to win collective bargaining rights, because the right to organize a union is a fundamental civil right for all American workers, in all industries and occupations," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said in a speech at the University of Washington, where some 84 percent of the 1,650 graduate student employees have chosen to form a union, the Graduate Student Employee Action Coalition/UAW. The school's administration has refused to recognize the students' choice.

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