As the New York University graduate-student strike entered its second week, organizers were expanding its reach by enlisting support from unlikely allies.
To that end, last Thursday, Nov. 17, at Community Board 2’s monthly meeting, organizers from the United Auto Workers, which represented the N.Y.U. grad students until earlier this year, pleaded with the board for support in their continuing walkout.
Graduate Student Organizing Committee organizer Joel Brooks, among others, called on Board 2 to pass a resolution, written by board member Arthur Schwartz, that affirms the GSOC/U.A.W. Local 2110’s “right to exist.” The resolution also calls on N.Y.U. to immediately begin negotiating with the union, and requires Board 2 to honor the union’s picket line and hold all meetings off the N.Y.U. campus for the duration of the strike. (Board 2’s district encompasses the N.Y.U. campus, and the board regularly holds its meetings on N.Y.U. property.)
The board’s resolution, said Mr. Brooks, “is very important for the labor movement, workers’ rights, students’ rights …. The right to organize is an internationally recognized human right.”
But some board members objected to the pro-union language in Mr. Schwartz’s resolution. “I don’t think the community board should involve itself in labor disputes,” said board member Bob Rinaolo. He added that asking N.Y.U. to bargain with the union is tantamount to putting pressure on the university to give in to some of the union’s demands.
So instead of Mr. Schwartz’s resolution, the board voted on, and passed, another resolution with toned-down language that, while instructing the board to honor the union’s picket lines and hold its meetings off-campus, supports neither side in the ongoing dispute.
Reached by The Observer, Mr. Schwartz expressed disappointment that Board 5 hadn’t taken a stronger stand on behalf of the grad students. “It would have been nice [to pass the original resolution], but I’m happy that at least we will respect the picket line.”
Board member Wilbur Weder, who questioned the intent of the original resolution, said, “I was reluctant to support a resolution that would involve us taking on one side or the other.” He added that he personally wouldn’t cross a picket line, and that a vote of some sort on the issue was necessary because, without it, “the board would not be able to get a quorum.”
The 1,000-member grad-student strike began on Nov. 9, after N.Y.U. decided that it would no longer recognize the GSOC/U.A.W. Local 2110. In 2002, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students who taught classes were workers under the National Labor Relations Act. But two years later, the NLRB overturned that decision in a 3-2 ruling involving Brown University. (Individual states determine whether graduate-student unions at public institutions can be recognized; SUNY’s grad-student union was awarded its first contract in 1993.)
And in August 2005, when the union’s contract ran out, N.Y.U.—the first private university to be directed to recognize a graduate-student union—refused to negotiate anymore. According to N.Y.U. press releases, the university was ready to renew the contract if the union pledged to not involve itself in academic disputes. When the union refused, N.Y.U. pulled out.
Calls by The Observer to N.Y.U.’s office of public affairs were unreturned by press time.
Washington Square Redo
It was back to the drawing board for Community Board 2 that same night for another contentious and as-yet-unresolved issue: the redesign and renovation of Washington Square Park.
The board has held several meetings to discuss the Parks Department’s plan, which—assuming it’s ever approved by the various departments, agencies and parties involved—will cost $16 million and close portions of the park for two years beginning in spring 2006.
The latest wrinkle in the park’s design drama came after last month’s full board meeting, in which board member Shirley Secunda pitched a substitute resolution that basically approved the Parks Department’s plans in their entirety, effectively reaffirming the board’s earlier position on the park.
At that October meeting, Arthur Schwartz, the waterfront and parks committee chair, effectively had the rug pulled out from under him: He had wanted to present a resolution taking issue with key elements of the redesign, including the proposal to move the fountain in line with the famed Washington Square Arch, and the elevation of the plaza surrounding it to grade level. But Ms. Secunda’s resolution, to the consternation of dozens of park preservationists who had gathered to support Mr. Schwartz’s resolution, carried the vote.
Mr. Schwartz had plans to reintroduce a similar resolution at last week’s board meeting, in an effort to wrest control of the park’s redesign from the Secunda faction. But Maria Derr, the new board chair, ruled it out of order before Mr. Schwartz could present it, at the board’s executive committee meeting on Nov. 9. According to Ms. Derr, Mr. Schwartz’s new resolution contained “inappropriate language” and contradicted the Secunda resolution from last month.
But that didn’t stop board member Rosemary McGrath from trying to overturn the chair’s ruling. At the start of the full board meeting on Nov. 17, she made a motion to overturn it—a motion that failed when no other board member would second it.
District manager Arthur Strickler had also provided an alternate resolution for the park’s redesign, but it was not adopted at the meeting.
“I was disappointed,” Mr. Schwartz said regarding the fate of his resolution. “There’s nothing in the rules that says that a committee can’t ask for reconsideration of an issue.”
City Council member Alan Gerson, whose district includes the park, addressed the board and asked for a resolution in the near future that endorses his agreement with the Parks Department. It guarantees, among other things, that the play “mounds” near the southern edge of the park would be kept. It also calls for the expansion of a children’s play area and the creation of another; the construction of a permanent elevated concert area and an expanded chess area; and a revision of the dog-run redesigns—an issue that dog owners have been barking loudly about. Mr. Gerson’s agreement leaves the issue of the fountain realignment and plaza grading up to the city’s Art Commission.
Mr. Schwartz said that his committee would likely have a resolution in January that supports the Gerson agreement.
And Mr. Strickler, the district manager, said: “The people that want to continue the argument can now argue with either the Art Commission or the Landmarks Commission.”