The New School’s Non-academic Workers Continue to Try to Unionize

In what has been a monthslong battle, non-academic student workers at The New School continue to try to unionize and are gearing up for the next round.

Some will state their case at a public hearing with the National Labor Relations Board Friday.

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The non-academic student workers aim to be represented alongside their professors with ACT-UAW Local 7902. For months, ACT-UAW Local 7902 members have offered their support to the student workers, as have union members at the school.

The contingency, which is known as the New Student Workers Union, or NewSWU — pronounced “new swoo” — is composed of about 900 student workers, the majority of whom are undergraduate students as opposed to graduate ones, according to organizers. In March, representatives from this student-led effort said they were open to all student workers on campus regardless of where one works, as well as one’s job title, hours, immigration status or Federal Work Study participation.

A New School spokesperson issued a statement Wednesday night that read, “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.”

Student workers at The New School had filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board on Aug. 7 to create what organizers described as “the country’s first wall-to-wall graduate and undergraduate student worker union.” Those non-academic student workers handle such tasks as fixing printers, producing social media content and keeping workshops open. Some work in The New School’s libraries and staff its dormitories. Molly Ragan, an ACT-UAW Local 7902 staff organizer, said Wednesday, “They are often underpaid, paid late, and even unpaid.”

Ragan claimed that The New School submitted a statement of position to the board in advance of Friday’s hearing. “In it, the university illuminates its true intentions: to actively fight legal recognition of NewSWU.”

The union official alleged that the university claims that student workers do not deserve union representation because they “are not employees under the common-law test or within the meaning of Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act.” Going further, Ragan also alleged The New School intends to exclude Federal Work Study positions from any potential union.

Union officials noted that academic student workers in SENS (Student Employees at The New School) and Student Health Service counselors and medical practitioners in SHENS are negotiating their second collective bargaining agreements with the university. Part-time faculty, who waged their own strike last fall, are trying to ensure that the university upholds the obligations outlined in their new union contract.

In the past two weeks, ACT-UAW Local 7902 has submitted two unfair labor practice charges to the NLRB, the first regarding the university’s failure to furnish information related to unilateral changes made to faculty health care plans in 2020, and the second regarding the university’s failure to furnish information necessary for bargaining. The upheaval coincides with the Aug. 15 arrival of The New School‘s interim president Donna Shalala. The school’s former president, Dwight McBride, officially exited last week.

Ragan claimed that The New School’s statement is “a clear attempt to silence student workers, who form the backbone workforce of the institution.” Ragan did not highlight any specific demands that are being sought in addition to unionizing.

The school claimed it had received a petition two weeks ago from the UAW Local 7902 to represent a group of currently unrepresented non-academic student workers encompassing 100-plus job titles that applied to 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 1,000 academic student workers. SENS members are currently covered under a contract that has been on campus since 2017.”

The New School said it had 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 addition, the school claimed its position statement had referred to a 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.

Minimum wage and low-wage salaries are areas of grievance for millions of entry-level workers. In the U.S., 44 percent of workers between the ages of 18 and 64 are earning low wages with the median hourly wage being $10.22, or about $24,000 a year, according to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Unsafe conditions, unpredictable work schedules and financial insecurity are factors for many including Black and Latino workers, who are disproportionately represented in this group.

Should the university continue to object to this union with the NLRB, there are plans “to escalate,” Ragan said. That would involve working in conjunction with the academic student workers union, whose contract will expire Aug. 31, and the school’s medical practitioners and counselors in the Student Health Services, whose contract expired Aug. 9, Ragan said. Asked for specifics, the union spokesperson declined any further comment.

Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Aug. 23 at 8:50 pm.

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