Fordham University graduate workers became the latest New York-based employees to successfully unionize in a landslide 229-15 vote — forming a union with the Communications Workers of America in an official National Labor Relations Board election on Thursday.
Overworked and underpaid graduate students expressed relief at channeling frustrations exacerbated by the pandemic into the workforce where employees were making $15,000 below a living wage in NYC, and faced unpaid overtime, rising expenses and lack of adequate healthcare.
“Today’s success shows that we can turn our frustrations into action,” said Anwita Ghosh, a graduate Teaching Fellow working in the the school’s English Department. “Graduate student workers for too long have been overworked and underpaid. We need to be able to afford to live in this city, and that isn’t possible when you make below the living wage for NYC and are not compensated for working overtime.”
Student employees at Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences work in a number of fields, including clinical psychology, biology, economics and history. Yet, unlike many other employees at Fordham and at peer institutions, they’ve had limited power over their working conditions, they say.
The new union’s first contract includes formal grievance structures, pandemic-related funding extensions, protections for international students, better pay and comprehensive health care and child care accommodations. Starting pay for graduate assistants is about $26,000 per year, according to the new union.
In the wake of a historic labor and organizing effort by Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island and other labor wins for New York Times tech workers and REI retail workers last month, the city continues to see a surge of union organizing as labor momentum grows across the country.
A majority of graduate assistants signed cards in favor of unionization and sought voluntary recognition from Fordham prior to the election. Some of their demands include increasing their income, which is currently between $15,000 to $20,000 a year and is below the NYC’s 2022 minimum wage of $27,456.
The university said in a statement that it is “pleased that the process played out fairly: we accept the results of the vote and respect the student workers’ decision. We are proud of members of the university community who engaged in respectful and constructive conversation with one another and with the administration.”
Contract negotiations are likely to begin in the coming months, and Fordham said it’s “committed to working with the union and its members in good faith.”
“Fordham University’s teaching and research would not be possible without graduate student workers. The work we do as teachers, in labs, and providing other support is critical to keeping this school running,” said Jay Plourde, a graduate assistant working in the Psychometrics and Quantitative Psychology Department. “We love and take pride in the work we do, but so many of us struggle to pay expenses, and we are forced to avoid seeking health care due to unaffordable deductibles and copays. We are ready to work with the administration to get the contract we deserve.”
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