New York grad assistants first to gain union contract

Jeff Stone

New York University graduate assistants last week became the first private-school students in the United States to negotiate a union contract, but Northwestern has no plans to follow in their footsteps.

In their new contract, NYU graduate students won significant increases in salary and health care benefits with the representation of the United Auto Workers union.

Mauricio Drelichman, an NU doctoral student in economics, said a graduate student union would not work at this university.

“We have a good working relationship with the administration,” he said. “There is no reason to change what is working for us right now.”

NU graduate assistants earn $17,500 annually and a small percentage of health coverage, said Richard Morimoto, dean of graduate students.

Under the new agreement at NYU, graduate assistants will receive a $15,000 yearly stipend starting next year that might increase in future years, according to the NYU Office of Public Affairs. The university had paid students between $9,000 and $14,000 a year.

“Using NYU as an example will not work because we are already past the point where they are at,” Morimoto said. “If you look at NYU, they are still substantially under what NU graduate assistants get. What’s important is that we were able to come to this agreement through having strong dialogue between the (Graduate Students Association) and the administration.”

Being part of a union will require NYU’s 1,000 graduate assistants to pay union dues, something Drelichman said is unnecessary.

“I feel no need to take organization to the union level at this time,” Drelichman said. “As long as we don’t have any disagreements, there is no need to unionize.”

NYU will pay half of the $1,200 cost of individual health insurance for all graduate assistants this year and the full cost next year. But administrators said NU’s health coverage is already sufficient.

“NU health is one of the best,” Morimoto said. “We recognize that health care is expensive, but it covers a lot.”

NU health care costs $1,186 per year. For 2002-03, the rate will rise to $1,421.

“We pay actually a small percentage of the health care,” Morimoto said.

Although Morimoto sees no need for a union, some NU graduate assistants said it would be beneficial to follow NYU’s example.

“I think it would work here and I am in favor of it,” said Jarod Roll, a second-year graduate student in the history department.

Health insurance is the main financial problem NU graduate students face, Roll said.

“The stipend is certainly a fair amount,” he said. “In comparison with other universities, it is a very good amount. The only complaint I have is the high cost of health insurance.”

Roll said the money saved on health insurance could be used to subsidize graduate students’ research that would help benefit the university.