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The New School Denies Student Workers’s Right to Unionize

Eight months after a strike by the school’s part-time faculty, leadership at the arts university are dismissing its student workers’ union rights

 

On August 7, 2023, the New Student Workers Union (NewSWU) of The New School in New York City, filed a representation petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to create the nation’s first wall-to-wall graduate and undergraduate student worker union. 

The New School comprises around 900 student workers, who fix printers, produce social media content, keep workshops open, and are the first contacts for dorm emergencies — services the NewSWU claim are often underpaid, paid late, or go unpaid. 

The NewSWU has been organizing a union since the historic part-time faculty strike at the institution in 2022, aiming to be represented alongside their professors with the ACT-UAW Local 7902.

Founded in 2002, ACT-UAW Local 7902 currently represents The New School’s part-time faculty, academic student workers, student health center providers, and the adjunct faculty at New York University (NYU). 

Teaching assistants, research assistants, tutors, and other student academic positions have been unionized under Local 7902’s Student Employees at The New School (SENS) since 2018. If recognized, NewSWU’s membership would be a nationwide milestone.

In July 2023, The New School announced negotiations with its Academic Student Workers Union to reach “equitable agreement” before the current contract expires on August 31, 2023.

The university’s economic and non-economic proposals total $46 million over the six-year contract, including a 29% pay increase (from the previous contract), pay for training, health insurance, sick leave, and subsidized paid family leave.

However, the university’s statements to its community of “[recognizing and rewarding] the hard work of [its] part-time student employees,” who have “a distinct relationship to the university as paid workers who are also our students,” have been at odds with its actions, the NewSWU alleged in a press release.

On August 21, 2023, prior to NewSWU’s hearing with the NLRB, The New School submitted a statement of position (SoP) to the board, claiming that student workers “are not employees under the common-law test or within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act,” and do not require unionization. 

The New School further claimed to exclude Federal Work Study positions from a potential union, stating in its SoP: “Work study is not compensation. Work study is not consideration for work performed. Work study is financial aid to a student. Students who receive work study do not have an employer-employee relationship with The New School.”

In a statement, the New Student Workers Union Organizing Committee alleged that "The New School’s leadership [has] made it abundantly clear that they plan to obstruct our right to form a union…We view this as an egregious attempt by [the school] to silence us, and a violation of our rights to freedom of association, freedom of speech and freedom to engage in collective bargaining over the terms of our employment.

“In forming a wall-to-wall student worker union to protect all students employed on campus, we are fighting to hold this institution accountable for its despicable treatment of not just student workers, but also our entire New School community. 

“Ours is a fight for more than better pay and working conditions. It’s a struggle for democracy, transparency, and shared governance in an institution that desperately needs it,” they added. “We call on the university to withdraw their objections to our NLRB petition so we can finally formalize our union and begin bargaining for our first contract. We do the work to keep this school running. Will we be forced to demonstrate the value of our work by withholding it?”

 

The Violin Channel received a statement from representatives of The New School emphasizing that it supports the rights of its employees and students to unionize but also raised concerns. The statement reads:

"The university deeply values all our student workers. They make important contributions to our university, and we support their right to pursue representation under the process established by the NLRB.

We support the rights of our employees and students to unionize and have taken a position of neutrality during the NewSWU organizing process. We have relationships with nine unions on campus that represent our part-time faculty, student health workers, academic student workers, maintenance, and security workers, among others. We have always supported the rights of our workers to form or join a labor union; our focus is on making sure that our student employees’ rights to organize and vote are respected.

Two weeks ago, we received a petition from the UAW Local 7902 to represent a group of currently unrepresented non-academic student workers encompassing over 100 different job titles involving several hundred workers. Instead of forming a separate bargaining unit, Local 7902’s petition seeks to include these non-academic student workers in the existing SENS unit that represents approximately 1000 academic student workers. SENS members are currently covered under a contract that has been in effect since 2017.

The New School submitted a statement of position to the NLRB raising concerns that some of the job titles among the unrepresented group are already included in other recognized bargaining units. We also raised that non-academic student workers, who may work as orientation leaders or at the university’s New Store, do not have the same type of roles and responsibilities as academic workers, including teaching fellows, research associates, course assistants, and tutors—and therefore would be better served by representation by a distinct union bargaining unit. In fact, this is what the union had previously sought and discussed with the university—a separate unit for non-academic student workers.

In addition, our position statement referred to a very recent NLRB decision finding that the funding sources for certain positions, such as federal work study, may impact the ability of those positions to be in a union.

We look forward to continuing dialogue with the union, and the resolution before the NLRB on all of these issues."

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