The New School in NYC Hit by Student-Employee Strike (1)

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By Gayle Cinquegrani

Student workers at the New School in New York went on strike May 8 after failing to reach an agreement with the school on their financial demands.

The students work as teaching fellows, tutors, and research assistants. They are represented by Student Employees at the New School–United Auto Workers. They voted 99.4 percent in favor of the strike.

The strikers are seeking wage increases, health-care coverage, tuition remission, and a child care fund, Louisa Strothman, a research assistant and member of the bargaining committee, told Bloomberg Law May 8.

UAW negotiator Lily DeFriend told Bloomberg Law that picketing could continue until May 11, “depending on how the negotiations go.”

The strike could disrupt academic operations because “a lot of the striking workers are grading exams during this period,” DeFriend said May 8. “A lot of the faculty have been very supportive, and they’ve agreed not to make contingency plans” to cover for the striking students.

School Seeks to Minimize Disruptions

“We remain committed to reaching a strong, fair contract as quickly as possible,” the college told Bloomberg Law in an e-mail May 8. “Negotiations are scheduled to continue on Wednesday night. In the meantime, we are working to minimize any disruptions caused by the union’s decision to strike, and classes, programs and projects are continuing as scheduled.”

“The union’s current demands would result in a 129% increase in costs for this group of employees at a time when The New School has cut non-staff expenses by $4.2 million as part of its focus on retaining jobs and protecting teaching across the university,” the college said. “The university’s guiding principle throughout this process has been providing wage increases that are fair, that are equitable compared to other employees at The New School and that do not drive up tuition costs substantially for our students.”

Student employees receive a stipend or a wage that can be as low as $13 per hour, according to Strothman.

“It’s egregious that we have students paid less than what New York has said will be the minimum wage” when the city minimum wage rises to $15 in 2019, she said. “Students are really supportive. I think they understand the administration can’t keep exploiting their classmates.”

The school has about 850 student workers each year, although the number varies from semester to semester, Strothman said.

SENS-UAW and the New School have been bargaining since August and already reached a tentative agreement on several non-economic issues, such as protections against sexual harassment and grievance and arbitration rights.

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