By Andrew Fraley
New University President Samuel L. Stanley’s inauguration, much like the cold Friday afternoon on which it was held, had its own share of dark clouds. Following over two years of working without a contract and several months of bargaining with the Research Foundation, the members of the Communications Workers of America Local 1104 were excited for an opportunity to welcome a change to the university’s leadership. Over 35 research, graduate and teaching assistants were in attendance at the bottom of the zebra path on October 23 to welcome the new president and to encourage his collaboration towards a better quality of life for graduate student employees.
Complications began to arise when demonstration organizers were contacted by the University Police about the event. Concerned over a potential disruption to the inauguration’s processional march down the zebra path on its way to the sports complex, the police requested the union’s cooperation to ensure that the event went smoothly and without disruption. This would include a barricaded section where the demonstrators would stand while the procession passed by. Kira Schuman, Business Manager of the Graduate Student Employees Union, said that she and colleagues were a little upset about this. “I was a little surprised about the barricades,” said Schuman. “[Robert J. Lenahan] the police chief, had just asked for no interference.”
According to Schuman, an additional purpose of the demonstration was to present Stanley with a petition signed by over 650 supporters, urging his collaboration to ensure a livable wage and tuition wavers for graduate student employees, as well as on campus office space for the GSEU and the RA Union.
This is the second rally held by the unions this semester, and just another in a series throughout the remainder of the semester. The demonstrations come amidst months of negotiations with the Research Foundation for a contract both parties can agree on. To date, they’ve only tentatively agreed on 9 out of 26 articles. “We’re still in the process of tabling issues,” said Zvi Citron, bargaining committee member and RA in the physics department. “We’re having a hard time finding common ground though.” Specifically, an article extending anti-discrimination laws to include familial status, citizenship status, ancestry, gender expression, gender identity, weight and height has been rejected since the beginning of the summer. In addition, an article defining the policy of prior notification of funding changes for assistants has been rejected, which is considered a very serious topic. “They were more worried about Principal Investigators losing students than Research Assistants losing jobs,” said Clint Young, another committee member and physics RA.
Nevertheless, committee members remain optimistic, and progress is being made. “It is going as expected,” said Young, who jokingly called the demonstration the inauguration party crashers, given the circumstances.
They have yet to discuss economic issues, but expect to come to those soon.
In the meantime, Stanley was never in the procession. Assistants never had a chance to greet the president, but they were applauded by many faculty members in the procession. Schuman also encouraged members to participate in the ceremony at the gym. “We want to demonstrate that we’d like to participate in this university,” said Citron.
The administration’s response to the demonstrators and their organizers has been less than welcoming. Schuman and several other colleagues were removed from the ceremony for wearing the distinctive red union shirts, or, as in Schuman’s case, simply possessing them. “The police escorted me out and prevented others from even entering,” explained Schuman. “I wasn’t even wearing the shirt.” While the police refused to comment at first, it was later reported that they removed the demonstrators on the administration’s orders. “They’re censoring students,” said Schuman. “It’s absolutely ridiculous.”
Despite the negative response from the administration, the union members remain hopeful. George Bloom, President of CWA 1104, announced that he met with Governor Patterson, who promised that by next week, the contract will be settled, and that the Research Foundation will stop any obfuscatory and union-busting tactics. Despite not having met with Stanley, most assistants viewed his appointment as a welcome change, and are looking forward to working with him in the future. “Without us, SUNY does not run,” reminded Bloom.