New School Teachers Go for Union

802's Contracts Inspire Others to Organize

Volume CIII, No. 11November, 2003

Joel Schlemowitz

In 1998, jazz instructors at the New School won their first union contract with Local 802. Two years later, the New School’s Guitar Study Center followed suit. Inspired by their experiences, other faculty at the New School are fighting to organize. Joel Schlemowitz, an instructor at the New School, filed this report on the faculty’s organizing efforts.

In the fall of 2002, we faculty at the New School started a campaign to unionize.

Right now, only the instructors who teach in the Jazz Department and at the Guitar Study Center have a union, and that union is Local 802.

The rest of us – a 2,000-strong faculty – have been without representation, and now it’s our turn to win a voice.

The majority of faculty at the New School are contracted semester-by-semester, with no job security, no compensation for canceled classes, no compensation for advising, no office space, little or no benefits and negligible opportunity to do anything about this.

In March, faculty formed Academics Come Together, decided to affiliate with the UAW, and filed a petition for a union election with the National Labor Relations Board.

The New School responded to the faculty’s call for an election by refusing to work out the eligibility of faculty to be part of the bargaining unit, and instead proceeded to fight the faculty’s right to unionize.

New School lawyers claim that all tenured faculty, all full-time faculty, all core faculty, and many other faculty who had served on committees or had other departmental duties are “management” and therefore barred from forming a union.

In addition, the New School contends that faculty members lose their right to unionize if they have taught less than four consecutive semesters. In this scenario, of the 2,000 faculty at the New School, roughly 500 would be eligible to unionize.

On June 20, the union presented its case at the Labor Board. The New School’s lawyers launched into personal attacks on the faculty witnesses.

In one case the New School attempted to have confidential student evaluations entered into evidence. The NLRB rejected this.

In another instance, a union witness’s resume was attacked in an effort to undermine her credibility.

The hearings have concluded and we await a decision by the NLRB. In the meantime, support for the union continues to grow among faculty, and if anything has been strengthened in reaction to the New School’s adversarial approach.

Academics Come Together sponsors a Web site at to keep the public updated on the campaign.