Graduate Workers At Columbia Get OK From National Labor Relations Board To Join Union

"Graduate workers at Columbia University got a win Tuesday from the National Labor Relations Board in Brooklyn, which upheld their recent vote to join a union."
Ginger Adams Otis
March 8, 2017

Graduate workers at Columbia University got a win Tuesday from the National Labor Relations Board in Brooklyn, which upheld their recent vote to join a union.

Research assistants and teaching assistants at Columbia University cast ballots in December to become part of Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers.

In her Tuesday ruling, NLRB officer Rachel Mead Zweighaft said Columbia University failed to provide a legitimate claim for its objection to the vote result.

“The employer has failed to demonstrate that any alleged objectionable conduct occurred which could have affected the results of this election, in which the petitioner prevailed by 900 votes,” said Zweighaft.

“Accordingly, I have recommended overruling the employer's objections in their entirety.”

GWC-UAW is now urging Columbia University to come to the bargaining table to hammer out a contract that covers the grad school workers.

Research and teaching assistants had already sent the university’s management a petition in January urging Columbia to drop the objections filed against the election results.

“We are excited about the Board's decision upholding the overwhelming result of our democratic vote,” said Olga Brudastova, a research assistant in Columbia's Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics.

"Now that we've officially won our union, we can focus on bargaining improvements in a fair contract," she added.

The battle among university teaching and researching assistants to organize won national support and got a major boost in August when the NLRB cleared the way for them to join a union.

In a key decision, the NLRB reversed a George W. Bush-era case involving Brown University that took away grad school workers’ right to collective bargaining at private universities.

Graduate employee unions at public universities are common. More than 60 campuses nationwide already have recognized unions and engage in collective bargaining, including New York University and the State University and City University of New York.

Graduate employees at Harvard, Boston College, Yale, Cornell and the University of Chicago are currently in the process of organizing unions.

Julie Kushner, the director of UAW for the New York region, said Tuesday’s NLRB decision means some 3,500 Columbia graduate workers can negotiate better wages and working conditions for themselves.

“Confronting the major challenges facing US higher education — winning debt-free college, increasing STEM funding, protecting diversity and inclusion on campus and more — will require the power and strength of workers' collective voices, especially in the era of Trump,” Kushner said.

“It's time for Columbia to respect their strong, democratic decision and work together with their employees to implement solutions."

A Columbia University spokeswoman said the institution was still going over the ruling.

"We are reviewing the hearing officer's report and recommendations to the NLRB," the spokeswoman said. 

March 8, 2017