By SAMAIRAH KHAN
The Union for Graduate Employees at New York University protested in Washington Square Park on Tuesday, demanding a “fair contract” for graduate assistants who, they contended, deserved to share in the big profits raked in by the institution.
“It’s time, for NYU to put its money where its mouth is,” said Shelly Ronen, a student of sociology and member of the bargaining committee. “NYU says it’s committed to excellence, we can’t make excellence if we can’t pay our rent, and we can’t make excellence if we don’t have health care.”
The union became certified on Oct. 31, 2000 as NYU’s graduate employees union, and has the legal right to negotiate wages and other employment conditions.
Members are fighting for higher wage, tuition remission, childcare assistance and affordable healthcare for the graduate workers and their families. Protestors were holding signs that stated, “NYU can afford a contract,” and “Every grad worker deserves a raise.”
Organizers said that that some graduate assistants are not paid at all and other paid as little as $10 an hour. They were demanding a minimum hourly wage of $20 an hour for teaching assistants and a 4 percent increase for all other workers in the first years of their contracts.
“There has been less progress than we would have preferred at the bargaining table,” said NYU spokesman John Beckman. “However, we take it as a hopeful sign that the union has recently embraced our proposal to bring in a mutually-agreeable, impartial mediator. We believe the mediator will be very helpful in narrowing the gap between our positions.”
The union says that NYU had a profit of $115 million in 2011, $53 million in 2012 and $399 million in 2013. The protestors busted open a purple piñata that was shaped as a pig with big yellow writing “399 MILLION,” representing the money NYU has to pay for a fair contract for graduate workers. They called the piñata a 990, the tax forms that non-profits file, and NYU filed, according to the bargaining committee.
“We’ve been fighting NYU since February, we’re here today to show NYU to show President Sexton, that we will not back down, until we get the goods,” said Natasha Raheja, an anthropology student, also a member of the bargaining committee.
The protest ended with the crowd singing “which side are you on, John?” referring to John Sexton, NYU president.