Columbia grad students officially vote to form union

STEPHON JOHNSON | 12/15/2016, 11:47 a.m.
In a landslide, Columbia research and teaching assistants voted 1,602 to 623 in favor of joining the Graduate Workers of ...
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Columbia University’s graduate workers are officially unionized.

In a landslide, Columbia research and teaching assistants voted 1,602 to 623 in favor of joining the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers Union. Columbia’s graduate workers are the first in the country to form their union after the National Labor Relations Board’s August ruling.

Graduate workers now call on the administration to honor collective bargaining rights.

“Today, 3,500 RAs and TAs like me have won a voice to make sure Columbia University is the best place possible to learn and work,” said Addison Godel, a teaching assistant in the Architecture School at Columbia University, in a statement. “This marks a major victory for the entire Columbia community. We care deeply about the world-renowned teaching and research that happens at our university and are ready to tackle the issues that matter most to us, our students and our neighbors.”

“We bring in nearly $1 billion each year in grants and contracts and teach courses from chemical engineering and applied physics to biology and religion, but for too long Ivory Tower administrators have been calling all the shots,” added Olga Brudastova, a research assistant in Columbia’s Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, in a statement. “We came to Columbia because we value inclusive and accessible learning and teaching. We look forward to getting to work on the improvements that will make sure Columbia stays a competitive, world-class institution in the 21st century.”

It’s been a slow build for Columbia’s graduate workers, but last week’s vote ends a productive year for them.

In May, in an email to Ph.D. candidates, Columbia University Provost John Coatsworth announced improvements in workplace benefits for the school’s graduate workers, including parental leave, child care subsidies and changes in fees. The dean of engineering also announced the increased coverage of fees, which would provide parity across schools and programs. In July, Coatsworth announced a 3.75 percent pay increase for teaching assistants and research assistants for four years and also announced plans from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Morningside Professional Schools to raise stipends by at least 3 percent each year for the next three years.

When September rolled around, Columbia graduate workers achieved their biggest victory. The National Labor Relations Board ruled that private universities were required to bargain on working conditions and compensation with graduate-worker employee unions.

“The UAW has a proud history of helping higher education employees win respect on the job and union rights at public and private universities from coast to coast,” stated UAW President Dennis Williams. “More than 38,500 teaching assistants and research assistants have formed their unions with the UAW, cementing real improvements on the job and for their families. Today, we celebrate Columbia graduate workers as they embark on a new journey to build a brighter future at one of our nation’s most prestigious universities.”