Dr. Stephen Brier is part of the Consortial Faculty at The Murphy Institute
As if we needed yet another indication that New York University (NYU) exploits its employees (while also blatantly disregarding the needs and desires of its downtown neighbors), The New York Times reports on the deplorable conditions experienced by South Asian contract workers who were brought to build NYU’s glittering monument to its own hubris, the Abu Dhabi campus of the college in the United Arab Emirates. Being forced to pay labor recruiters as much as a year’s wages in order to gain the privilege of working 6 or 7 days a week, 12 hours a day (much like indentured servants in the 17th and 18th centuries), and to live in numbered “labor camps,” which are little more than prisons, led many contract workers to go out on strike for better wages and working conditions. Their efforts were met by stark repression by the Abu Dhabi government. Five years ago, NYU offered a fig-leaf when these conditions in Abu Dhabi were first revealed, claiming it had issued a “Statement of Labor Values,” which turns out not to be worth the paper it was printed on.
This system is a perfect example of who pays the price for academic and cultural globalization and exploitation, a system that NYU and its tin-eared leader, John Sexton, have proudly perfected over the past decade. If you are interested in learning more about conditions in Abu Dhabi, check out this online article by NYU journalism student Kristina Bogos, who visited one of the UAE labor camps.
Updated: 5/20 at 3:30 PM
Responding to the May 19 article in the New York Times, NYU offered “our apologies” to exploited Abu Dhabi contract workers, as reported in a follow-up article in the Times. The Times piece ends with a quotation from Ramkumar Rai, a Nepali immigrant who worked on the Abu Dhabi project who is still waiting for his final six months of pay 16 months after he left the UAE: “When will the money? If the money comes it will be O.K.”
Here is a discussion of the new book that JSMI faculty members Ruth Milkman and Ed Ott published this spring, NEW LABOR IN NEW YORK, hosted by Laura Flanders of Grit TV. The book, from Cornell University Press, is available for purchase from many booksellers.
Demand Fair Contracts, Fair Wages and Job Security for All Working People
Adjuncts, full timers, faculty, and staff—we need your presence and your indomitable spirit at the May Day march and rally, Thurs., May 1, 5:00 p.m., starting at City Hall. As part of a national mobilization, academic unions like the PSC and UUP, are demanding a minimum starting salary of $5,000 per course for adjuncts. May Day, the international workers’ day of action, is the perfect time to make the $5K demand visible in our city and link the struggle of college adjuncts to that of New York’s other low-wage workers. It’s also a day to stand with our partners in the city labor movement who, like us, are working without a contract, and with immigration activists who, like us, are fighting for the NYS Dream Act and a better life for the next generation of New Yorkers.
Plan to meet your PSC friends and colleagues at 4:30 p.m. at the southwest corner of Broadway and Chambers St. Download the May Day $5K flier and the general May Day flier. RSVP and More Info.
Penny Lewis is an Assistant Professor of Labor Studies at The Murphy Institute
Years of organizing, agitating, occupying and strategizing have brought the issue of low wage and precarious work to the forefront of contemporary economic discussion. Fast food and retail are not the only sectors where such low wage work has become the norm: higher education is increasingly structured along the same logic. One of the central slogans taken up by students and professors at today’s May Day march and rally is “May Day $5K” – a call for a minimum payment of $5,000 per college class taught by part-time and contingent faculty. This demand is being made alongside calls for job security, health benefits, and other improved working conditions for the contingent instructional staff that now comprises 75 percent of all college faculty members. Shamefully, CUNY pays adjuncts closer to $3,000 per class, and it’s not an outlier.