The view from Brooklyn: Why we’re coming together to build our faculty union

All across NYU, contract faculty are coming together to tell the administration that we need a union. 

Coming together is a key phrase. A union is how we come together with our colleagues, because when we collectively bargain we have more power to improve our work lives. What seems like an individual problem or an individual need is transformed into a common problem and a common demand.

Coming together is also what we’re doing across NYU schools. It’s easy to feel like our school or our department is different from all the others, but one of the pleasures of building Contact Faculty United is to learn what our colleagues in other schools need to make their jobs better. 

More often than not, what we find is that what seems to be a unique problem in one department is actually widely felt across the university.

Here at Tandon, we’ve been talking to each other about what we need to make our work lives better, to better do our research, and to better serve our students. When speaking with fellow contract faculty at Tandon, these are some of the reasons people say they want a union: 

  • We’ve heard from several new faculty who came to Tandon from universities where faculty already have a union contract. They say it meant significant, tangible benefits and more negotiating power. 
  • A union would help protect current good working conditions! Some of us who were here before Poly merged with NYU appreciate overall better working conditions now, while also recognising that this is largely dependent on our department chairs. We appreciate these chairs and deans, but we realize that they may leave and be replaced. A union can secure the conditions we appreciate under their direction
  • Our salaries are not keeping up with the cost of living in the New York metropolitan area, and for many of us, affordable housing comes with a burdensome commute. With a union, we could negotiate raises on a predictable schedule based on collective bargaining, not the unpredictable whims of the administration
  • Transparency in negotiating contracts, reappointment and promotion process. A union would negotiate rules and expectations set by a legally binding contract; this makes the process consistent, even as chairs and deans come and go.
  • Substantive representation and a bigger voice in university affairs. Many of us have been asked for our input into decisions that shape our departments, only to have that input completely disregarded. Our expertise in our fields, and as teachers, will only benefit the university overall if we have a real measure of authority over the management of NYU. 
  • Establish a sustainable work-life balance. Currently, some faculty work 12-13 hour days, twice a week. This is hard enough. Add in parenting and a long commute and try managing your life. Weekly hours exceed what contracts stipulate. We have taken on administrative responsibilities that were not part of our contracts: this labor should be part of negotiation, not imposed on us after we’re hired. 
  • Visa support for international faculty. The current policy makes the process more difficult and time-consuming than it has to be. This impedes international research projects and collaboration. It is an instance of an institutional policy that does not benefit the institution. Tandon should have a clear, standard policy where all international faculty are offered the H1B work visa as the default, with a clear path to permanent residency tied to advancement\promotion\experience.  
  • Sabbaticals and\or research leaves. Again: our research benefits the university. Many of us, however, are not granted the sort of ability to carry it out that tenure-track faculty have, whether in the form of startup funds, or research leaves. In addition, many do not have the sort of access to grants and other sources of competitive funding. 

Do these reasons sound familiar to you?

If this is why you want a union, or if you want a union for another reason, please join us in this effort. In the past year, many unions have successfully secured better work conditions and more equitable rights for their constituents, including our adjunct colleagues at Parsons, Barnard, and the grad and adjunct unions at NYU. The more people who participate – a little or a lot – the more the union will be strengthened by representing the interests and concerns of all of us as well as it can!

If you haven’t already, sign the petition calling for the administration to publicly commit to respect our right to collective bargaining, ensure real due process for contract faculty at NYU, including a guaranteed right to grieve termination to a fair and impartial third party, and establish meaningful annual raises that match or exceed the rate of inflation.

In solidarity,

Ahmed Ansari (Technology, Culture and Society)
Ken Cereste (Mathematics)
Joseph Esposito (Mathematics)
Scott Fitzgerald (Integrated Design & Media)
Benedetta Piantella (Technology, Culture and Society)
Vladimir Tsifrinovich (Applied Physics)