By Nick Statt
The Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU) is currently fighting on two fronts: in a lawsuit concerning the infringement of their First Amendment rights, and in the NY State Senate for a vote on their revised and already-ratified pay bill. On Thursday, October 7, GSEU held a rally in front of the Stony Brook Union to raise awareness and gain support for accelerating the vote on the bill.
Aman Gill, a megaphone-toting graduate student in Ecology and Evolution, directed a steadily growing crowd to a table of cell phones where supporters could call their state legislator and demand they pass the bill. GSEU’s previous contract expired in 2007. The revised version, which was ratified back in February, has yet to be voted on by the Senate, despite already securing passage in the New York Assembly.
“The agreement has already happened. Now they are just holding back on the money,” announced Gill to the initial rally members.
“That means that a lot of the benefits of the contract are not in place,” said GSEU Business Agent Marcelo Disconzi, a graduate student in the mathematics department. “No salary increases, no money for different funds like professional development funds, recruitment funds,” he added.
The salary increases are a pivotal point being pressed by GSEU. Current teaching assistants and graduate assistants are being paid according to the 2007 contract, while the revised version is calling for a six percent pay raise based on the increases in the standard of living.
The pay bill would also apply retroactively— TAs and GAs would be paid the money they would have earned while working from 2007 to 2009, on the assumption that the contract that expired in 2007 should have been revised immediately.
On October 4th, the University Administration said they did not break the law, according to GSEU spokesman Jim McAsey. The lawsuit concerns an incident during President Stanley’s inauguration, in which members of GSEU were forcibly ejected for wearing t-shirts expressing support for their organization.
“Members were denied their right to free speech when they showed their support for the union and our campaign to get livable wages,” McAsey said. When asked if GSEU was going to take measures to push the lawsuit forward, McAsey said, “Absolutely. I believe a meeting will be scheduled with a judge within 120 days of October 4.”
Jim LaCarruba, NY State Senator Brian Foley’s chief of staff, also spoke at the rally in favor of the revised pay bill and the measures GSEU was taking to get it passed. Sen. Foley and LaCarruba are also notable supporters of PHEEIA, which conflicted with rally members’ negative stance on increasing tuition and the privatization of public higher education.
“We did our job. Now it is time for the State to do its job and approve this pay bill,” said Disconzi as he prepared to take the megaphone from Gill and share his thoughts with the crowd. “They wouldn’t pass our pay bill because they didn’t have a budget. But now they do have a budget, so there is no excuse as to why they cannot pass the bill right now.”