Clocking in at 26 days, the strike by part-time members of The New School, which includes Parsons School of Design, is the longest part-time strike in US history according to ACT-UAW Local 7902, the union of academic workers at NYU and the New School. At 10pm on Saturday they announced the end of the strike. The journey to a successful contract was not without conflict but appeared to unite the teaching and student body as well as academics nationwide while famous alumni designers, authors, and performers penned their support in an open letter to boycott the institution. Climate activist Naomi Klein, designer Isaac Mizrahi, fashion writer Lynn Yaeger, and Paper magazine founder Kim Hastreiter were among the strike's supporters.
Part-time faculty make up 87 percent of the teaching staff at the New School so without them the institution ground to a halt. Threats were made of a class-action lawsuit signed by 1500 livid parents who pay as much as 75,000 dollars annually to cover their children’s tuition plus accommodation. Calls for the resignation of school president Dwight A. McBride were accompanied by protests outside the Park Avenue homes of trustees Joseph Gromek and Linda Rappaport while near-daily picketing continued in front of the main school building in downtown Manhattan.
After hostile negotiations striking part-time faculty have their demands met
The university leadership had walked away from negotiations delivering a “last, best and final” offer at the end of November which had been resoundingly rejected by 95 percent of the striking faculty. Accusations arose that leadership was spreading misinformation and using bullying tactics to divide and intimidate the strikers. A federal mediator was enlisted to help both parties move beyond the stalemate but news that management had also hired expensive lawyers from firm Ackerman LLP to represent them at the bargaining table fueled the anger of picketers amid renewed accusations of financial mismanagement against The New School.
Further uproar ensued when it was reported that the school was considering hiring what the Union referred to as “scab replacements,” professionals who would be drafted in to grade students’ work despite their having no prior knowledge of the students or their progress. Prospects of a pre-holiday resolution looked grim even just a few days ago when the university threatened to begin withholding wages from striking faculty, and during the most recent bargaining sessions when the union announced that it had filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the university.
But despite it all, an agreement is in place and it is expected to be ratified in the coming days by union members. Although it is said that the compensation figures are still below those in comparable New York City schools, access to healthcare which had been a key point of contention in the negotiation process has, according to union messaging, been successfully addressed in the new contract. While no details have been released, a statement by the New School reads: “This is a strong, fair, five-year contract that increases compensation significantly, protects health care benefits, and ensures that part-time faculty are paid for additional work done outside the classroom to support our students.”
A new day at the New School
Celebrations remain tentative, however. It’s the start of a new week but the end of the semester and faculty is back on campus dealing with the fallout. Now the union is requesting that the formerly striking faculty demonstrate the same solidarity with the students who have been out of the classroom without access to facilities and instruction but, as is the custom at semester’s end, must submit final projects for grading. Many of the students were picketing alongside their professors. Others have already returned home for the holidays. Some are asking if a portion of their tuition will be reimbursed, others are concerned that their academic progress is not where it needs to be. There is a student occupation in The New School’s University Center at 63 Fifth Ave as those perhaps most affected by the strike protest to have their concerns heard. Both union and students are requesting that students suffer no penalties for a lack of work or lack of attendance in this final week. The union posted the following on its social media at the weekend: “ACT-UAW Local 7902 asks that all part-time faculty honor students’ experience of living and learning through a strike, remain open and compassionately consider these requests. Let’s work together to restore the soul of the New School!”
While some see the agreement as a win for adjuncts across the country who have observed the power of community in fighting for stronger contracts, the reputation of the school, as well as the mental and financial health of faculty, parents and students have certainly taken a battering. This will take time to heal.