On Monday, New York University's president Andrew Hamilton sent a letter to parents of striking graduate students arguing that the strike is unnecessary and unwarranted.
“In short, we believe the strike is unwarranted, untimely, and regrettable,” Hamilton wrote in the letter, which is titled “A Letter to Parents from NYU President Andrew Hamilton” and was posted online by the school. “And we think a mediator could have made and still can make a difference.” The letter links to another sent by Hamilton the previous day addressed to “the NYU community” which is even more forceful and calls the union’s demands “unreasonable.”
Nearly all of the graduate employees union members (96 percent) voted to approve the strike and set a deadline at 12:00 AM ET on Monday, April 26th for the administration. Over the past ten months, negotiations have stalled and the Graduate Student Organizing Committee (GSOC) has insisted the university has refused to bargain in good faith or meet their demands for a new contract.
"Increases in the cost of living in New York have far outstripped raises in our compensation," one GSOC demand paper reads. "Workers cannot afford to live in NYC. All our workers are students and no student should go into debt to get an education."
Word of the letter began spreading on social media on Tuesday, with NYU Associate Professor of History Rebecca Anne Goetz confirming on Twitter that the school sent it to the parents of union members. In an emailed statement, an NYU spokesperson clarified that the mailing list it was sent out on is “almost wholly made up of” the parents of undergraduate students and that any parents of grad students who received it either signed up on their own or remained on the list from the time when their child was an undergraduate student.
GSOC's demands include a livable wage for all graduate workers, beginning at $32 an hour alongside a 3.5 percent annual pay increase. The university limits work weeks to 20 hours, meaning that $20 an hour comes out to $1600 a month, or $19,200 a year, if a student works every week of the year. NYU responded previously with an offer of $21 an hour and 3 percent annual raises.
“NYU’s graduate employees are among the best compensated in the US (recent contract settlements at other major private universities set an hourly wage 15% less than the $20/hr minimum that NYU currently pays its graduate student workers),” Hamilton wrote in the letter to parents. “We have proposed to pay them over 20% more, among other significant enhancements to their contract. Unfortunately, after 10 months and 16 sessions of contract negotiations, they still have 70 new demands on the table, including a one-year increase in hourly pay of 60% (going up to nearly 80% over three years).”
In the letter, Hamilton painted the school as being flexible and willing to work through the issues, while the union is apparently stubborn and unreasonable.
"We think a mediator might have made a difference,” Hamilton wrote to NYU parents. “A mediator helped settle our prior contract with our graduate employees, and helped settle recent agreements at Harvard and Columbia. However, the union steadfastly rejects the presence of a mediator." Hamilton said that the union still has “70 new demands on the table.”
In a blog post published Saturday, GSOC shared that its bargaining committee had bargained with NYU for a "marathon 10-hour bargaining session." NYU made some gestures and proposals to avoid a strike, but after the students found them insufficient the university refused to meet before the strike deadline.
"While we made significant moves and presented a contract framework that would provide a fair settlement,” GSOC wrote, “NYU showed no movement on many of the issues most important to us, such as tuition waivers, wages, and provisions against the university cutting jobs.”
Hamilton ended the letter to parents with a more positive spin on events, perhaps as a measure of reassurance to parents that the school likely sees as customers who may be rankled by a potential service interruption: "NYU has made a generous offer, remains committed to good-faith bargaining, continues to have the goal of achieving a fair contract, and will remain focused on our educational and scholarly missions. In addition, we are eager to avoid rancor or bitterness, for, whatever happens, our graduate employees will still be our students after all is said and done. We hope those on the other side of the bargaining table share our goals," the letter states
While Hamilton’s letter doesn’t explicitly ask parents to do anything, it’s clear that the overall message is that the strike is bad and should stop and the letter appears to arm parents with arguments supporting this position. Ultimately, it looks a lot like strike breaking, although it’s unclear what parents are supposed to do to their adult children to stop them from fighting for their rights.
Update: This article was updated with comment from an NYU spokesperson.