Nerds Still on Strike

The Village Voice has a background and an update on the graduate student strike at NYU.

Inside jokes and collegiate trappings aside, there’s little to distinguish this fight from the kind of bitter, take-no-prisoners labor-management standoffs that have come to characterize the George W. Bush era. NYU’s decision to revoke its recognition of the union representing graduate assistants came after the Bush-controlled National Labor Relations Board gave it a bright green light to do so last year. The panel ruled that the assistants are students, not employees with bargaining rights. The 3-2 decision, which overturned an earlier ruling by a Clinton-appointed board, was part of the lesser-known collateral damage inflicted by the pro-business Republican president.

As soon as the board ruled, NYU’s leaders began signaling that they intended to renounce their 2001 labor agreement with the students, a pact that was the first-ever graduate assistants’ contract signed by a private university. The sole reason, officials insisted, was that the union had failed to abide by its pledge not to file grievances concerning matters of academic procedure. That argument puzzled the union, however, since NYU had won all of the key grievances it cited as examples of that interference. In both cases, arbitrators had pointed to ironclad clauses in the contract that protected the university’s right to select instructors, even when it meant steering the work to assistants paid far less, or even importing them from off campus. The union had indicated it was willing to live with that arrangement, however much it hobbled its functions.