Graduate Students at NYU Become the First Graduate-Student Union at a Private School (Again)


After eight years of stalled efforts, graduate students at New York University have done it: On Wednesday afternoon, graduate, research, and teaching assistants at NYU became the only graduate-student union at a private university in the United States — for the second time. How could that be, you ask? We’ll explain.

In 2004, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students at Brown University were not allowed to unionize because they had a “predominately academic, rather than economic, relationship with their school.” The ruling granted NYU, then the only private university with unionized graduate students, the power not to renew its contract with the bargaining unit. (Graduate-student unions currently exist at a number of public universities, including Rutgers and several campuses of the SUNY system.)

As a result, negotiations languished until this November, when the NYU administration agreed to allow graduate students to decide for themselves whether or not to organize a bargaining unit.

On Wednesday night, 1,247 graduate students at NYU and NYU-Poly unionized for the first time in eight years. Over the course of December 10 and 11, 98 percent voted in favor of representation by the United Automobile Workers. (Full disclosure: The collective bargaining unit at the Village Voice is represented by UAW.)

UAW regional director Julie Kushner praised NYU’s comportment during the unionization process, honoring their promise of neutrality after a November agreement.

“This election stands out as one of the most positive, democratic processes I’ve ever experienced,” she said in a statement. “NYU’s genuine commitment to neutrality fostered a remarkably respectful environment in which graduate employees were free to choose representation without threats or intimidation.”

Hadi Gharabaghi, an organizer and fifth-year graduate student in film studies, acknowledged to the Voice after the November agreement the precedent that Wednesday’s union authorization might set for other private universities across the country. “We would be more than happy and proud to set an example for that.”