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At New York University, the future is now. The only private university in the U.S. to negotiate with union-represented graduate students, the continuing tension at NYU today may very well be representative of Penn's own condition in a few short months. Granted, the process took over half a decade up in Manhattan. "Unionization has been around NYU for the past six years, if I include the first discussions," said Koray Caliskan, a Turkish graduate student in NYU's politics department and a member of the union's bargaining committee. The university administration did not cede bargaining rights quietly, fighting the process both through the courts and through internal informational campaigns. Since a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board decided on April 3, 2000, to recognize certain NYU graduate students as "employees" as defined by the National Labor Relations Act, the decision was only legally binding in the New York region. The stage was set for a precedent-making case in the graduate student labor movement. Once NYU's appeal to the national office of the NLRB was rejected by the then-three-member board on Oct. 31, 2000, it was game, set and match for the private university's administration. After the appeal's defeat, when the ballots from the election allowed by the regional director's earlier ruling were finally released as per NLRB policy, the NLRB certified the Graduate Student Organizing Committee/United Auto Workers' slim victory and declared them to be a legitimate, legally-recognized union. While ballots were challenged and the university allegedly "continued to hem and haw" and "declined to recognize" the union, according to bargaining committee member Laura Tanenbaum, the end result was the same. "Initially, they didn't even want to accept a standard grievance procedure," remembered Tanenbaum, a seventh-year comparative literature doctoral candidate. "They wanted a panel of professors instead of the standard outside arbitration process -- your bosses' colleagues deciding your grievances." Caliskan remembers the desperate times before unionization. "When I came to NYU in 1997, my salary was $9,600 and I didn't have money to buy lunch," Caliskan said. "That was one of the most humbling experiences," he continued. "A few students of mine proposed to go out and have lunch together after a class, and I had only two bucks in my pocket." Collective bargaining, it would seem, has made a world of difference. "Now my salary is $16,000 plus free healthcare, and we don't pay student fees or anything," Caliskan enthused. "The contract's been very effective," Tanenbaum agreed, citing improved health care and pay across the 1,200 person unit. Many such improvements were originally offered as sops to quell the rising tide of unionization, according to both Tanenbaum and Caliskan. "In the buy-us-off stage, they made some contributions," Tanenbaum said. "NYU started... to prevent us from unionizing by increasing wages," Caliskan agreed. Many NYU officials and faculty declined or were unavailable for comment. However, an NYU professor speaking on condition of anonymity offered his perspective on the unionization campaign. "What we pay our grad students is a function of our ability to compete," he said, dismissing the GSOC/UAW claim that the campaign itself was responsible for university "pay-offs." "We just installed the financial aid reform, which had been initiated long before the union came along," he continued. "The union's timing was fortuitous." "The irony is of course the graduate students responsible for the imposition of the union have graduated and moved on," the professor added, leaving faculty and administrators to deal with the increasing bureaucracy and complications they left in their wake. Stating that he didn't think "the average academic" had noticed any significant changes yet, he offered some advice to universities following NYU into collective bargaining. "Maintain control of the academic environment," he warned. "It's worth paying the price to maintain academic integrity. Good luck."

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