Don't call them students. In a 620 to 10 vote, New York University's graduate teaching and research assistants voted to unionize with the United Automobiles Workers. The vote, which took place December 10 and 11, made NYU's 1,000+ graduate assistants the only graduate assistants' union recognized by a private U.S. university, according to the NY Times .

Bringing the issue of unionization to a vote was no easy matter for the graduate students employed with NYU. "This is something we've been working for for eight years," Matt Canfield, a fifth-year doctoral student told the Times. From 2002 to 2005, the UAW represented NYU's graduate assistants, making NYU's graduate workers the first student union represented under federal, rather than state labor laws.

But NYU soon stopped recognizing its graduate student union following a 2005 National Labor Relations Board decision that ruled that graduate students employed at Brown University were students rather than workers, and should not be allowed to unionize. With its four-year contract expired, NYU's graduate assistant union was shut out from the benefits its members had previously received, including increased stipends and improved health coverage.

Protesting graduate students went on strike into the Spring semester of 2006, and continued to make noise in the following years. Their protests were not met by a particularly sympathetic administration. At a conference at the India Business Forum in February 2013, NYU President John Sexton joked about "admit[ing] that they’re workers, and fir[ing] them!’”

Tensions between graduate assistants and administrators apparently relaxed just enough to hold a vote, however. "There was an opportunity for the university and the union to meet in the middle,” NYU Executive Vice President for Health Robert Berne explained to NYU Local. Part of this compromise comes from the yet-unresolved status of graduate assistants whose bargaining rights have not been agreed upon by NYU and the graduate assistants union.

Now having secured their rights to unionize, NYU's graduate students hope to negotiate with over the university's health coverage, which became significantly more expensive last year. The union also hopes to inspire other universities' graduate workers to unionize, reigniting a spark that went out with the NLRB's ruling against Brown University students in 2005.

"We are very excited at the prospect of having not only an expansive bargaining unit, but also the prospect of having a full contract by the end of the academic year," Canfield told NYU Local.