FGSW’s December 12 bargaining session with flyers informing members of the Fordham community that Fordham uses NDAs to silence voters crime of harassment and discrimination

Bargaining Update from Fordham Graduate Student Workers (FGSW)

Benjamin Van Dyne, FGSW Coordinating Committee

This fall, after a landslide victory in the election for recognition of our union in April, Fordham Graduate Student Workers (FGSW, now also part of CWA 1104) began bargaining toward a contract with Fordham University. In our first five bargaining sessions, Fordham responded to our comprehensive proposals with stonewalling, willful misunderstanding, deception, and a patronizing attitude. We are going into the spring more determined than ever to build our power and to demonstrate to Fordham that our members should be—and will be—treated with respect.

More than 60 members of FGSW have attended our open bargaining sessions, led by our elected bargaining committee and our Vice President for the Education Division of CWA Local 1104, Andrew Dobbyn. The development of our proposals has happened collaboratively with the entire bargaining unit, in open meetings, one to ones, and with a commitment to securing the best possible contract. We’ve been able to do this because we are the ones who know best what it takes to function well in our jobs.

Fordham’s bad faith approach began in our very first bargaining session when Fordham’s outside lawyer presented us with proposed ground rules, which either patronizingly restated what it means to negotiate (“negotiation is the process of making proposals and responding to them”) or insisted that we commit to being “respectful and professional.” Once we made clear that we would not accept these patronizing ground rules, we moved on to our first set of proposals. 

The first major proposal we presented was to ban the use of nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) in cases of harassment and discrimination. This is a health and safety issue, because the use of NDAs anywhere at the University means that bargaining unit members are not adequately informed about a potential health and safety danger in their workplace. For more than four hours over two sessions, Fordham insisted that they occasionally need to be able to silence harassment and discrimination survivors, for the survivors’ own good—but Fordham also insisted, bizarrely, that they are committed to the right of survivors to speak. They claimed our proposal was rooted in naïveté and misunderstanding about how these agreements work. They insisted that they should have total discretion on how to ensure that Fordham is a safe workplace.

Fordham has responded in the same way to our other major proposals, with a combination of self-contradiction, misrepresentation, and condescension. For example, we brought up cases in which graduate workers were informed of teaching assignments with mere days left to prepare a new class. This clearly constituted unreasonable working conditions and put the quality of undergraduate education at risk. In response, we proposed a firm, but flexible process for ensuring timely teaching assignments. Fordham’s representatives insisted that these last minute teaching assignments do not often happen and sometimes are unavoidable, but they didn’t respond to the actual process outlined in our proposal.

We proposed that graduate workers be supplied with the necessities for their teaching work, and Fordham’s team insisted that they always had supplied such necessities, even after many of us in the room testified otherwise. Here, again, Fordham’s answer amounted to “trust us.” We also made a proposal that would set a new standard for support and protection of international graduate student workers—and Fordham hasn’t even responded to this.

Aside from the specifics of each proposal, the dismissive, patronizing attitude of Fordham’s representatives, especially their outside lawyer, Ray Pascucci, did not go unnoticed by all who have been present. Every FGSW member who has attended bargaining sessions left angry about Pascucci’s disrespectful attitude, but was determined to fight for a strong union and a good contract.

This entire process has made one thing clear: Fordham will make concessions at the bargaining table when we demonstrate that we have the strength to push them accordingly. We can do so and win a strong contract by building our capacity to mobilize, forging relationships of solidarity with our colleagues, and collaborating with our contingent faculty comrades at Fordham Faculty United as they prepare to go on strike at the end of this month. This spring, expect to hear more about our escalating actions toward a contract we can be proud of.