New school instructors rally to end three-year wage freeze

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Without a new contract for more than three years, part-time teachers at New York’s New School rallied last week to demand a deal to reverse years of salary freezes and budget cuts.

Assistants and students mobilize at the New School, September 12, 2022 [Photo: WSWS]

An estimated 150 to 200 New School adjunct professors and students gathered outside the University Center last Wednesday as part of the protest demanding fair pay. As jazz teachers – who have not had a new contract for almost as long – played live music, workers and students held signs reading: ‘Teaching conditions are learning conditions’ . A sign read: “Part-time teachers: 87% of teaching staff [staff]13% of budget.

The International Youth and Students for Social Equality (IYSSE) of New York University (NYU), a neighbor of the New School, intervened at the rally, addressing workers and students and distributing 150 copies of the letter from UAW presidential candidate Will Lehman to university employees.

An assistant rally instructor told IYSSE: “We are not being paid for the extra work we have done during the pandemic. We didn’t even get a raise. I earn $4,500 for a three-credit course.

“We don’t get paid to grade or email students; we only get paid per contact hour. For example, a three-credit course has 45 contact hours per semester, but I would say I work double or triple that. Students suffer. I would definitely invest more in the course if I was paid more, and it would actually be necessary for the students.

The teacher added that one of her colleagues earned twice as much as her ($9,000) for a three-credit course because of her seniority.

Nell, an undergraduate student who attended the rally to support her instructors, said, “I think it’s critical that people have enough money to survive. It is ironic that the New School, which presents itself as very progressive, does not pay 87% of its instructors a living wage.

Nadia and Max, both undergraduate fine arts students, also came to support the associate professors. Nadia said, “Most of the best teachers I’ve had here are part-time teachers. They make the school what it is.

Max added: “I know so many teachers who go out of their way and pay out of pocket to create an environment where students can actually work. I know many who basically spend 24 hours a day in craft shops. who are also part-time.

“Most have second jobs because they can’t afford to live off teaching alone, but the New School is even marketing the fact that many teachers are also actively working in the arts, even though the reality is that they have to. They are not even entitled to maternity leave.

Nadia said: “There is overwhelming support for teachers among the student body. There is a strong contempt for the administration but a strong connection of the students with the teachers, the custodial staff and really all the workers.

Angie, a Communication Design student at The New School’s Parsons School of Design, said: “I go to school here and I love my teachers to death. They are incredibly talented people who truly care about education and future generations. I think that’s the nicest thing for another human being to do: pass on their knowledge.

“I’m currently doing my homework on my phone, but I’m here because I want to show them that they deserve a living wage and health care. They need to be rewarded for their commitment to education. It’s a no-brainer for me to be here and show our respect and support.

The New School’s overwhelming reliance on part-time instructors results in lower pay, fewer benefits, and greater job insecurity for adjuncts compared to their full-teacher counterparts.

New School part-time faculty can be paid as little as $23,000 to teach six classes. These salaries are below the poverty line everywhere in the country, but even more so in New York, where the cost of living is extremely high. With wages frozen for three years and cash, soaring inflation has led to a significant drop in an already inadequate standard of living.

The attacks on New School professors extend far beyond frozen contract terms. The administration has responded to the pandemic by imposing massive austerity on its workforce, including furloughs for 260 employees, layoffs for more than 100 clerical and administrative workers, salary freezes for all professors earning less than $75,000 and pay cuts for those above that threshold. The university also merged departments and reduced faculty through buyouts to cut costs.

Class cancellations over the past two years have further reduced the income of part-time faculty. Meanwhile, the university unilaterally imposed health care changes that made it much more expensive to visit a doctor during a public health disaster.

The New School’s pandemic stimulus package has twice been signed by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, which covers New School adjunct teachers. The plan officially concluded at the end of the 2021-22 academic year, but reactivated the terms of the old contract until November this year.

Over the past three months, the union and the university have met to discuss the terms of a new contract. After eight negotiating sessions concluded, the administration hastened to obtain an indefinite extension of the old contract, that is to say to continue to massively reduce wages after taking inflation into account.

With the urgent need for a real struggle, the UAW continues its longstanding strategy of isolating individual contract battles and strikes, even when they involve the same locals. Just blocks from the New School, New York University auxiliaries – also covered by UAW Local 7902 – saw their contracts expire at the end of last month, to be extended for 30 days until the end of September.

This enforced isolation has been replicated by the UAW in other workplaces. Will Lehman, a socialist autoworker running for UAW president, described this process in a recent letter to UAW scholars. “When UAW workers go on strike – always after rejecting contracts that the UAW apparatus has sought to ram through – we are isolated and hung on strike pay on the threshold of the poverty. When UAW graduate students went on strike at Harvard, Columbia, and NYU in 2021, the UAW did nothing to even inform autoworkers, let alone mobilize us to support you. The same is true when auto workers and other manufacturing workers go on strike.

The IYSSE at NYU encourages New School workers and students to join Lehman’s campaign to break the grip of the bureaucratic union apparatus and return power to the grassroots. Lehman calls for the creation of rank-and-file committees in every workplace to assert the authority of workers to unite across factories, industries and countries, and fight against the subordination of all for profit.

For more on Will Lehman’s campaign, visit WillforUAWPresident.org.

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