Nerds strike: NYU grad students fight for union, contract
NYU graduate students hit the picket lines today in Washington Square Park. The strikers are demanding that the university recognize their union and negotiate a fair contract. Union leaders say that graduate students are prepared to remain off the job until their demands are met.
In 2000, NYU's teaching and research assistants became part of Local 2110 of the United Automobile Workers. When the grad students' contract expired at the end of August 2004, the University refused to continue to recognize their union because the National Labor Relations Board had ruled that students at private universities did not have the same rights to organize as their counterparts in public university systems.
I arrived on the picket line around noon. At least 500 grad students and supporters were assembled in front of the Bobst Library. The strikers marched around Washington Square, NYU's de facto quad.
This was a grad student strike, so there were plenty of unconventional plackards on display: "Nerds Pissed," "We Are Not Docile Bodies," "NYU Assistante En Greve," and so on. Some English PhD students were swapping signs so that everyone got a chance to carry their favorite piece of text.
Many faculty members also attended. Some, like Prof. John Waters, wore arm bands in solidarity with their striking grad students.
A large and vocal contingent of undergraduates undergraduates showed up to support their TAs. A third-year undergrad, "Canek," pulled off the most dramatic gesture of the day when he flew a banner reading "Contract Now" from the balcony a building adjoining the library. Minutes later, campus security guards and police made him take it down. It looked like they weren't going to let him go.
There was a slightly tense moment when a group of strikers rushed towards the glass lobby where Canek was arguing with the police, chanting "Shame on you!" Then Canek emerged with his banner and everyone calmed down and resumed marching.
Canek later told me that the security guards wanted to arrest him, but the NYPD officers couldn't be bothered.
"The police officer literally said "What did I get myself into? I just came in to use the bathroom," Canek said.
The first day of the NYU grad student strike was a success. It was upbeat, well-attended, and well-covered by the mainstream media.
I'll be checking in with the strikers as their job action progresses.
Here are some photographs of the NYU grad student strike. (New link to Typepad album)