Unionized teaching assistants at New York University returned to their teaching assignments for the start of fall classes on Wednesday, quietly but officially ending a strike that began last November, The New York Times reported today. The strike had been an attempt to get the university to recognize the TA union (The Chronicle, November 10, 2005), but participation in the labor action dwindled during the spring semester.
From 2001 to 2005, NYU was the only private university in the United States to recognize a union of graduate students (The Chronicle, March 16, 2001). But it did so only because a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board said that teaching assistants at the university had full bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act (The Chronicle, November 10, 2000). A 2004 ruling by the board reversed that decision (The Chronicle, July 23, 2004). When the university’s contract with the teaching assistants expired, in August 2005, the NYU administration opted not to renew the agreement, effectively ending its relationship with the union (The Chronicle, July 1, 2005).
Several months of striking by the union did not change the university’s mind. At the end of the fall semester, the university said that graduate students who did not report for their teaching assignments in the spring would be denied teaching stipends for the following two semesters (The Chronicle, November 29, 2005). In at least some cases, the university carried through on the ultimatum (The Chronicle, January 26). By the middle of the spring semester, both the union and the university agreed that considerably less than half of the graduate-student population was still participating in the strike.
Union leaders told the Times that the heavy turnover in their membership each year hurt their cohesiveness. They also said they were reformulating their strategy.