I think SWS must stand for Super White Smiles.
Monday night, a number of students gathered in a small room in Pupin to discuss the modern obstacles of labor rights in America. The presentation was titled Intern and Labor Rights: Amnesty Presents a Panel Discussion. It featured, among others, Ross Perlin. Perlin is best known for his book Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy. Our
intern young contributor, Zachary Hendrickson, was there to come up with an intellectual excuse for why he hasn’t found a job yet.
The first to speak was Patrick Gallagher, a former grad student of Columbia who is now at NYU. Gallagher’s portion mostly discussed he and his colleagues’ efforts to unionize graduate TAs and RAs at both CU and NYU. His point focused on the notion of graduate students as workers. He mentioned complaints that are well-known in the graduate community. Some examples include little pay for long hours, work that doesn’t truly relate to what the graduate student is studying, and little to no support over the summer months. Gallagher also expressed concern toward the relationship between the graduate student and their faculty adviser, a relationship which he describes as “paternalistic.” This feeling of being treated like a child with no power fueled much of his push for unionization. “I immediately jumped at the chance to assert myself as a citizen,” Gallagher says.
Needless to say, the fight for unionization has been a long and tumultuous one. Gallagher spoke of a ballot measure for unionization that went out among Columbia grad students. Before the votes could be counted, however, the ballots were impounded and incinerated. This was done on the grounds of the NLRB’s decision in 2004 to overturn a 2000 court decision involving NYU that had given graduate students the ability to negotiate a contract for terms of employment. The overturn, which happened under the George W. Bush administration, established the view that graduate students of private universities (not public) are working in a capacity that can be equated to a form of modern apprenticeship. Therefore, they do not have legal right to bargain for working conditions because their work is more about education. This doesn’t mean that universities can’t negotiate with grad students, but why would they want to do that? Hope still lives, however. The NLRB has been reconsidering the 2004 decision since August, and Gallagher is hopeful that this time it will come down in favor of the graduate students.
With no down time between applause and the next speaker, Perlin began his portion of the discussion. He illuminated the fact that an internship is a relatively new concept. Truly it does seem absurd when you think about it. “Working unpaid is an expected thing. It’s something that everyone is expected to do,” Perlin muses. He also described the frustrations of researching the intern phenomena because the word intern, according to Perlin, has no definition. “It’s a buzz word. It’s a catch all,” he says. This allows for different corporations to claim a wide variety of jobs under the term internship. The differences could be drastic such as the difference between paid and unpaid, between working in a training environment and being an errand boy, or between working on a team and working alone.