The union of student employees at The New School will hold elections Thursday, Feb. 1 to fill two vacant seats on the union’s bargaining committee.
Raven Hetzler, a New School for Social Research economics student and bargaining committee candidate, hopes to see high voter turnout.
“The administration is watching us,” Hetzler said. “Seeing that people are engaged in this process and care really helps to give our bargaining committee a strong mandate and remind the administration that they’re not just dealing with six people at a table, they’re dealing with the entire collective body of academic student workers.”
In September, the SENS-UAW bargaining committee sat down with university representatives for the first time. The current candidates commended the work of the bargaining committee since that time, noting student surveys conducted by the committee and data processing done on pay records.
For the coming semester, candidates said they hoped to see progress on issues including healthcare, pay raises, tuition waivers, grievance procedures and late pay procedures.
“One of the big focuses has been late pay,” said Louisa Strothman, a sociology student at Lang and bargaining committee candidate, “And making sure, one, that late pay doesn’t happen (which it does and has been), but also that if students are paid late, then the university pays a fee to the students for paying them late. The way students pay a fee for late tuition.”
Hetzler said the union hopes to conclude bargaining by the end of the semester. “The bargaining committee began with the smaller issues, and at the end of last semester we gave them our economic issues,” Hetzler said, listing topics like pay raises, healthcare, and travel reimbursement. “They haven’t gotten back to us on that yet, so I expect that to be a big fight.”
Michael Dobson, a politics PhD candidate at NSSR running for a seat on the bargaining committee, said the university administration is missing an opportunity to benefit from union negotiations. “I think if you don’t take seriously student concerns, it’s a self-defeating thing. The university spends so much money advertising, promoting the university,” Dobson said. “And yet, they don’t seem to want to take advantage of this moment and opportunity to be a national leader in how they look after students.”
With some of the candidates, their advocacy experience is not just limited to their work at The New School. Dobson, for example, worked as a corporate lawyer in New Zealand and as a legal advisor to the Marshall Islands for the United Nations Climate Change Conference that led to the Paris Climate Agreement, two experiences he said made him an effective negotiator. Hetzler became involved with the SENS-UAW organizing committee when he enrolled at The New School in Fall 2016.
Strothman has been a student worker at The New School since the spring of 2016, first as a communications assistant for the Humanities Action Lab that used to be based on campus, and now, as a research assistant. Beyond involvement with SENS-UAW organizing, Strothman was also engaged in advocacy work that resulted in New York raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18-years-old.
John Milne is a BA-MA student majoring in economics and politics at Lang. According to Milne’s candidate statement, his experience working on city council, senatorial and presidential campaigns “will be valuable in our struggle against the intersections of the corporatization of higher education and deunionization.” Milne did not return requests for interview from The New School Free Press by the time of publication.
Students initially voted for the group of union members who would act as the liaison between the university and the union in September 2017. Of the initial six committee members, four remain: Mithra Lehn, Lisa Lipscomb, Srishti Yadav and Daniel Younessi. Mark Rafferty and Katherine Fox graduated in December, creating the two vacancies.
The election comes after a turbulent campaign to unionize last May. In April 2017, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said the university’s teaching assistants, research assistants and tutors could vote to unionize. Later that same month, attorneys for The New School filed a request for review with the NLRB. In May, student workers voted 502-2 to form a union, although the ballots were not counted until July, when the NLRB review maintained workers’ eligibility to unionize.
Thursday’s vote will take place in the Levinson Lower Lobby of the 6 E. 16th St. building from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 1. All New School students are eligible to vote, regardless of union membership.
Header Photo by Orlando Mendiola