Striking New York University graduate teaching assistants responded to an administration back-to-work ultimatum today with a pumped-up noon-time rally in Washington Square Park where they vowed to continue their four-week old walkout.
The rally by some 300 strikers and supporters came a day after NYU president John Sexton issued an open letter to the teaching assistants setting a December 5th deadline for strikers to return to work and classes — or risk losing their paid stipends.
In his letter, Sexton acknowledged that “there has been an uncomfortable disparity between the ideal and the reality” for teaching assistants who are picked for their academic excellence to help with undergraduate classes. He outlined a series of reforms, including signed individual contracts for each assistant spelling out employment terms, including a $1,000 per year minimum annual raise over the next three years, and payment of full tuition and health insurance.
Sexton also admitted that campus labor tensions have spurred “mistrust” between assistants and the administration. “We must work to bridge the gulf that has developed,” he stated. The letter then went on to spell out the penalties strikers faced if they don’t return to class by the deadline: suspension from “assistantship assignments and loss of stipend for the following two consecutive semesters.”
The strikers, members of United Auto Workers Local 2110 (the same union that represents Voice employees), walked out after Sexton broke off bargaining for a new contract this summer, saying the university intended to take advantage of a new Bush administration decision that graduate student employees are not covered by federal labor laws. (See Voice, “The Nerds are Pissed,” November 15).
At the rally, speakers dismissed Sexton’s threats and vowed to continue their strike. Amid hisses and boos, the crowd followed a huge papier mache puppet image of Sexton, dressed in black academic robes, onto the picket line outside the Bobst Library.