Reworking/Rethinking the University

Two Conferences at the University of Minnesota, April 11-13th, 2008; April 24-26, 2009

Teaching and Research Assistants Collective Bargaining Rights Act

(from Andy Cornell of NYU/GSOC):

We have some exciting news to share!  Two of our allies on Capitol Hill, Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Representative George Miller, have just introduced federal legislation to amend the National Labor Relations Act to grant collective bargaining rights to teaching and research assistants at private universities and colleges.

The Teaching and Research Assistants Collective Bargaining Rights Act would correct the bad 2004 decision made by Bush appointees to the National Labor Relations Board which NYU hid behind in refusing to negotiate a new union contract with us.  Eventual passage of this bill which our union, the UAW, has been pushing on our behalf, will stop NYU from continuing to engage in the egregious union-busting tactics of the last several years, and help us sit down as equals at the negotiating table to work out issues like pay, health benefits, and working conditions.

Over the next several months, we will all have a role to play in supporting this legislation.  Now is a great time to update your phone number and address, which you can do by replying to this e-mail, so we can stay in touch as things unfold.

REPLY by e-mail with to add your name to a letter of support and thanks for this bill to the current sponsors and co-sponsors: Senators Kennedy, Brown, Clinton, Feingold, Obama and Schumer and Representatives Andrews, Grijalva, and Tierney.  We will be in touch again soon with more that we all can do to help see the bill passed and signed.

As Senator Kennedy said on the floor of the Senate, “It’s important for Congress to do more to guarantee graduate students the right to organize and to bargain over their wages and working conditions as teaching and research assistants, so I’m introducing legislation today to do so.

More than ever in modern education, teaching and research assistants are in classrooms every day, educating students in colleges and universities across the country.  Their numbers are increasing as the number of full time faculty dwindles.  Often, teaching and research assistants are now doing the same job as junior faculty members.

In fact, the classroom is a workplace for these scholars.  It’s where they earn the money they need to pay to put food on their tables and a roof over their heads.  They deserve the right to stand together and make their voice heard in their workplace.  Like other employees, they should have the right to join a union and improve their working conditions.  Obviously, better wages and working conditions for them also means better education for their students.

. . . The National Labor Relations Board is supposed to protect the rights of American workers, but it is failing teaching and research assistants, just as it has failed so many others.  By passing the Teaching and Research Assistants Collective Bargaining Rights Act, Congress will give these workers back the rights that the National Labor Relations Board has taken away.”

You can read his full statement at


April 24, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. From: “Peter Rachleff”
    Date: April 23, 2008 9:25:34 PM CDT

    I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but 1) legalized collective bargaining rights, 2) achieved through Congress, and 3) promoted by Ted Kennedy — what’s not to dislike about this “exciting news”?
    1) The utter failure of the labor “movement” aka “organized” labor in this country in the past thirty years should have provided enough evidence for bright folks to look elsewhere in their quest to build a movement and change power relations in this society. This, I argue, applies to collective bargaining as an end or as a means. It has been a morass which has hamstrung the best intentioned of us. The UAW, above (or beneath) all, is not to be considered as among the best intentioned of us. It has strangled the National Writers Union and stifled the efforts of grad employees to empower themselves from California to New York.
    2) Hoping to achieve victory through Congress — like the Employee Free Choice Act — without a strategy for grassroots mobilization and popular education, is an utterly empty gesture, one in which the leaders of the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions have specialized for at least three decades.
    3) Ted Kennedy? In April 1991 Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch entered an empty Senate chamber at 1AM and introduced a “unanimous consent motion” to enact the provisions of the Railway Labor Act which ordered an end to a nationwide rail strike. 235,000 workers, of all crafts, had been on strike for seventeen hours. As local labor activists begged Democratic Senators to delay intervention long enough to enable them to wring concessions out of the rail corporations, Kennedy and Hatch hatched — and implemented — their deal. They enabled Bush I to appoint a President Emergency Board which rewrote rail labor contracts not just slashing wages but restructuring work rules and job descriptions, dealing a death blow not only to efforts to bring railroad unions together but to resist the juggernaut of neoliberalism which was engulfing the country’s transportation industries. You gonna put your faith in HIM?
    Wake up, brothers and sisters.
    Love and Solidarity,
    Peter Rachleff
    Macalester College
    St. Paul, Minnesota

    Comment by eliumn | April 24, 2008

  2. I’m not one to put my trust in electoral politics, and at the moment this bill’s value is entirely symbolic – but if the reaction on the NYU campus is any sign, symbolism has its upside. Should legislation like this pass at some point down the line, it would hardly be an “empty gesture,” but would very likely inspire a boom in organizing much like that seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s at both private and public universities.

    I don’t think it’s productive to vitiate anyone for deciding to join and organize unions. Whatever the problematic nature of those unions may be, sometimes it winds up being most effective to wage struggles from within – particularly when resources to move globalized, financialized employers like NYU, Yale, etc. aren’t forthcoming from other corners.

    To do so is not to suggest that collective bargaining will fix everything – we in GSOC know that all too well – nor that the institutions we are involved with are beyond reproach. But collective bargaining and business unionism are not necessarily or always already synonymous. Organizing for GSOC, struggling to build power from within the UAW, neither involves complicity with the problems Professor Rachleff identifies, nor is it somehow doomed to failure or cooptation. These struggles are what we make them, and our evaluation of particular tactics should be based upon long-term strategic campaigns as well as an understanding of the kinds of movements we wish to create – not our faith, or lack thereof, in particular politicians or political organs. This is not, for me at least, about “faith” in any substantive way, but rather about recognizing the complex nature of struggles for social change and the sometimes compromised multiplicity of tactics involved in moving them forward. As Pat Benatar said long ago, “We can’t afford to be innocent.”

    That said, if Professor Rachleff has other ideas about how to effect social transformation and build worker power, I’d be excited to hear and discuss them.

    Comment by Zach from GSOC | April 24, 2008

  3. Labor relations should always be maintained at the highest level so that employee-business relationship is good. `

    Please do check into our very own blog

    Comment by Lavenia Reaume | November 6, 2012

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