SENS-UAW has called a strike after bargaining over financial demands stalled with the university.
The union represents 852 student workers, which includes teaching assistants, teaching fellows, research assistants, course assistants and tutors.
Members of the union will not be holding classes, grading assignments or helping with papers, according to the union. The strike comes in the last full week of classes, interrupting final assignments and grades. “It’s clear for a strike to be effective, it has to disrupt the functioning of the university. So we are committed to a disruption,” SENS-UAW organizer and NSSR politics Ph.D. candidate Michael Dobson said.
The union will be picketing in front of the University Center at 63 Fifth Ave., as well as 66 W. 12th St. and 6 E. 16th St.
“The whole school is declared a picket line, even if there is not an active picket line. We are asking people to respect the strike by not entering any building,” said Eli Nadeau, a member of SENS-UAW and Communist Student Group organizer. Nadeau is a politics Ph.D. candidate at NSSR.
Students, faculty and student workers have scrambled at the last minute to adjust to the impending strike.
“Several of my classes are not being held whatsoever and the others are being held in alternate locations,” said Regan Davis, a strategic design and management major at Parsons. “One of my classes had final presentations spanning over two weeks so while I had to present last week, the students presenting this week now have to do so remotely, creating more work for everyone,” she said.
To avoid crossing the picket line, some faculty members are holding their classes in off-campus locations like parks or their homes, and some are not holding class at all.
“I am actually meeting students outside the campus. We are meeting inside the park and trying to find other rooms in other universities, but it’s a little difficult at this time,” said Ying Chen, an assistant professor of economics at Lang and NSSR.
Other faculty are continuing to hold classes in their regular classrooms, despite the strike. More than 320 faculty members across the university members had signed a letter of support for the workers going on strike, as of May 8.
“We, the undersigned faculty, recognize that academic student workers play an essential role in fulfilling our university’s mission by educating our students and conducting critical research,” the letter stated.
As the strike deadline loomed, the Lang Faculty Council approved a motion at a May 3 meeting.
“In support of the student worker union, the Lang faculty refuses to provide the administration with contingency plans to cover class meetings and grading during the strike,” stated the motion, which was sent in an email to faculty.
Delayed grades could jeopardize students’ graduation, financial aid, and visa status, according to a May 6 email sent by the provost’s office.
“For instance, in the event of a protracted strike, continuing students with missing grades would be unable to submit the evidence of satisfactory degree progress required for federal financial aid eligibility,” the email stated.
The strike date was announced on April 25, after 99.4 percent of voters authorized a strike.
SENS-UAW was formed in May 2017 after a vote by student workers. The New School did not voluntarily recognize the union, filing appeals with regional National Labor Relation Board. Appeals were filed on the basis that not all student workers that voted for unionization qualified as workers. Appeals eventually reached the national NLRB.
In August 2017, the NLRB recognized the union, and SENS-UAW has been bargaining with the administration since September 2017. The parties have reached agreement regarding “non-economic proposals.”
However, SENS-UAW and The New School have failed to agree on financial proposals for wages, healthcare, tuition and fee waivers, and childcare.
In a May 6 email from President David Van Zandt, Provost Tim Marshall, the Deans of each college and chiefs, the administration stated several times that they are committed to negotiating a contract as soon as possible, saying they have offered the student worker union a “strong and fair” contract offer.
“SENS-UAW, unfortunately, has decided to walk away from negotiations,” according to the email.
The demands of SENS-UAW would lead to an “unsustainable contract,” the email said. Douglas Catalano, a lawyer on retainer for The New School, is one the main negotiators along with Keila Tennent-DeCoteau, vice president for Labor Relations.
A May 1 article by The New School Free Press noted that Catalano’s website said he specializes in “methods for maintaining union-free status in the face of organizing activity.”
That passage has since been removed.
In an email to the class he teaches, one teaching fellow who asked to remain anonymous, wrote, “Moments like this don’t happen often on college campuses and you guys are in the middle of a rather historic moment. Not to sound sappy, but what the students do and accomplish in these moments is remembered for a long time after.”
Photo by Orlando Mendiola