NLRB to review case involving research and teaching assistants at Columbia

Stephon Johnson | 12/31/2015, 2:13 p.m.
A case to be reviewed by the National Labor Relations Board could decide a group’s right to collectively bargain.
Columbia University

A case to be reviewed by the National Labor Relations Board could decide a group’s right to collectively bargain.

More than 3,000 research and teaching assistants at Columbia University are looking to the NLRB to review their case following a similar review of a case at the New School. Many believe NLRB will eventually overturn a 2004 decision where George W. Bush appointees took away the collective bargaining rights of research and teaching assistants. A similar case to be reviewed involves research and teaching assistants at Brown University. The NLRB has initially established the rights of research and teaching assistants to collectively bargain in 2000.

Chandler Walker, a researcher at the Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain and a member of the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW organizing committee, believes that the NLRB will do right by them.

“We are excited that the NLRB has granted a review and hope they move swiftly to overturn Brown, especially since thousands of our fellow RAs and TAs at other private universities have started organizing unions as well,” said Walker in a statement. “More than a year after we informed the administration of majority support for GWC-UAW, we deserve justice.”

“We look forward to a favorable ruling from the Board in D.C.,” added Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, in a statement. “Just like RAs and TAs at NYU and more than 60 public universities across the U.S., these workers deserve the respect that comes with collective bargaining.”

According to the union, the UAW represents more than 50,000 workers in higher education at institutions such as New York University, University of Massachusetts, University of Connecticut, University of Washington, University of California and California State University.

The GWC-UAW filed a petition with the regional NLRB in December 2014 after a majority of RAs and TAs first signed union cards. A decision by the NLRB regional director dismissed the petition because of the Brown decision. However, the Board in Washington granted the GWC-UAW’s request for review and reinstated the petition while ordering the regional NLRB to hold hearings to gather evidence.

After 15 days of the hearing, the regional director dismissed the petition again because she felt the Brown decision constrained her, but RAs and TAs found the decision encouraging because she included evidence that they felt supported the conclusion that they function as employees and should have the right to collectively bargain.

“As the ones who provide high-quality education to thousands of students and carry out innovative experiments and other research that helps bring roughly $1 billion per year to Columbia,” said Paul Katz, a GWC-UAW organizer who teaches history, “we know full well that we are employees who provide critical service to this university—we are workers.”

In early December, hundreds of research and teaching assistants rallied on Columbia’s campus and tried to deliver an open letter, signed by 160 elected officials and community leaders (calling on the school’s administration to respect their right to organize), only to be locked out of the building. Some of those who signed the letter included U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.