Part-time faculty at the New School in New York City, which encompasses the Parsons School of Design, went on strike today, November 16. The university’s 1,678 part-time professors comprise 87% of the faculty, and a crowd of over 100 union members, students, and full-time teachers showed up at the Manhattan campus this morning to join the picket line, which stretched halfway around the block.
The part-time professors are members of UAW Local 7902, which also represents faculty at New York University. After three and a half months of failed negotiations led to the November 13 expiration of their contract, the union voted to authorize the strike with a 97% margin last night. UAW Local 7902 and the New School’s administration will return to the bargaining table tomorrow and Friday.
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“This kind of activism is about supporting the institution to be better,” visual and performance artist Noah Fischer, who has taught a studio course at the New School for six years, told Hyperallergic. One of his classes of around 15 students decided to join him on the picket line today, and full-time professors in Parsons’s BFA Photography program and other departments also came out in solidarity.
According to the UAW Local 7902, the New School has not issued part-time professors a raise in four years; given sky-high inflation, the union calculates that these workers’ real income is 18% lower than it was in 2018. The professors are asking for a 10% raise now and 5% annual raises in the future, but the university has proposed a 3.5% immediate raise with 2% raises in coming years.
The union is also demanding expanded healthcare eligibility, lower premium costs, and increased job security, in addition to hard dollar agreements on the hours they spend both inside and outside of the classroom. The university, however, has offered around half of what the union is proposing. For example, UAW Local 7902 wants a 33 contact-hour lecture course to pay $8,860, and the university has offered $4,367, according to the union.
Elizabeth Torres, a fashion professor who sits on the bargaining committee, said the union will most likely continue to strike until they receive a “reasonable contract.”
“We don’t feel we’re being supported, and we don’t feel we’re being treated with any respect,” said Torres, who has taught at the school since 1997. Lee-Sean Huang, an artist and design professor who also sits on the bargaining committee, added that the university’s hired negotiator talks to the group like they are “errant children.”
“The tone can be a lot to handle sometimes,” Huang said.
The school released a statement yesterday in response to the strike, authored by Tokumbo Shobowale, the university’s executive vice president for business and operations, and Sonya Williams, the school’s vice president for human resources.
“Although we continued to make progress on contract terms, reached a number of tentative agreements, and the university brought an improved compensation proposal to the table, we are disappointed that UAW Local 7902 decided to declare a strike tonight,” Shobowale and Williams said. “Regardless, we are encouraged that the union has agreed to continue bargaining on Thursday and Friday this week and indicated a willingness to agree to mediation to break any impasses and help get an agreement in place.”
Torres said that the union is not seeking an expensive agreement with the school. The demands, she contends, are about being able to “afford to teach.” With current wages, expensive healthcare, and rising inflation, she says it’s difficult to be able to even live in New York City.