New School's Labor War

Union Wins Election Fair And Square, But Prez Kerrey Wants A Do-Over

New School University—founded by left-leaning intellectuals more than 80 years ago—is taking a page from anti-labor corporations in fighting an ongoing union-organizing battle.

Despite a mail-in vote last month in which a majority of part-time faculty members casting ballots voted to be represented by a division of United Auto Workers, university president and former U.S. senator Bob Kerrey is asking that the results be thrown out, saying the vote wasn't sufficiently representative of employees.

Some 65 percent of the school's 1,600 eligible adjunct faculty members voted in the February 27 election, with 530 voting in favor of the UAW and 466 opposed. Such elections are normally binding on employers, but corporate lawyers are increasingly contesting them in a bid to block unionization.

United Auto Workers leader Julie Kushner
photo: Sylvia Plachy
United Auto Workers leader Julie Kushner

Kerrey wasn't talking to the press about the issue last week, but he issued a statement through a public relations firm, saying that the turnout for the vote was too low. "The University believes that a group this small should not determine the professional future of so many others, and that an appeal is clearly warranted," he said in a press release.

Joe Haske, who has taught drawing at Parsons School of Design for 22 years, said Kerrey's rejection of the vote was undemocratic. "Do you think if we'd lost they'd want to overturn it?" he asked. Haske and other adjunct faculty members said they viewed unionization as the only effective way to have a voice at the school. "In all the years I've been here I have never found a way to address problems or complaints without worrying about losing my job," he said.

Jan Clausen, a creative-writing teacher at the school for 15 years, said she thought the administration was attempting to sap energy from the unionization effort. "They're hoping that, in the end, they wind up with a union as weak as possible," she said.

Last month's vote followed a lengthy, nine-month-long hearing process at the National Labor Relations Board. There, New School lawyers succeeded in knocking out a substantial number of would-be bargaining unit members, saying they were either managers or barred from unionization under previous rulings.

"The New School is launching the kind of anti-union campaign you'd see in any other corporation," said Julie Kushner, a director of UAW's Region 9A (the UAW also represents Voice workers).

The union has tried, without success, to use other top Democrats to pressure Kerrey, a former two-term senator from Nebraska who opted not to run for re-election in 2000 in order to become university president. Among those who have placed calls to Kerrey on the union's behalf, officials said, are Howard Dean, John Edwards, and Chuck Schumer. A hearing on the matter by the NLRB is scheduled for later this month.

Meanwhile, adjunct teachers at New York University, who voted to be represented by the UAW in 2002, are considering a walkout this spring to protest NYU's failure to agree to a contract.

 
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