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NLRB uphold Columbia grad workers’ vote for union

Stephon Johnson | 3/9/2017, midnight
Columbia University’s administration challenged the legitimacy of a union election.
Columbia University Wikipedia

Columbia University’s administration challenged the legitimacy of a union election. The administration lost, and Columbia’s graduate workers are waiting to get to the collective bargaining table.

The National Labor Relations Board upheld Columbia graduate workers’ vote to join the United Auto Workers union.

“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,” wrote Hearing Officer Rachel Mead Zweighaft in her ruling. “Accordingly, I have recommended overruling the Employer’s objections in their entirety.”

The decision left one of the main voices of the movement at the Ivy League school satisfied.

“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, in a statement. “Now that we’ve officially won our union, we can focus on bargaining improvements in a fair contract, including things like stronger protections against sexual harassment, as well as broader efforts like defending funding for climate change research and expanding the rights of international students to work in the U.S. after graduation.

“We look forward to working with the administration to help make Columbia the best place it can be to work and study for everyone,” Brudastova concluded.

In December, Columbia research and teaching assistants voted in a 1,602 to 623 landslide in favor of joining the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers Union. Graduate workers are now looking for the administration to acknowledge the results of the election and collectively bargain with them. Workers rallied several months ago, claiming that Columbia’s administration is waiting for a President Donald Trump-appointed NLRB to overturn their choice.

At the beginning of the new year, graduate workers, faculty, students and community members signed off on a letter to faculty calling on them to drop all objections to their vote to join a union.

“The issue now is not whether a union is a good or bad idea, but whether the university will respect the outcome of a democratic process,” read the letter. “In the aftermath of the presidential election, President Bollinger issued a letter pledging fidelity to Columbia’s core values. This is a moment when the university must make clear what its values actually are.

“It should drop its disingenuous objections and delaying tactics and move forward to constructive negotiations for a union contract,” the letter concluded.

Objections or not, graduate workers are ready to continue the fight. UAW Region 9A Director Julie Kushner said the new presidential administration means that the actions of Columbia’s graduate workers are currently more relevant than ever.

“Confronting the major challenges facing U.S. 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,” said Kushner in a statement. “More than 3,500 Columbia graduate workers are in a position to join tens of thousands of other UAW academic members and enact real, lasting change for their futures, their families and their students. It’s time for Columbia to respect their strong, democratic decision and work together with their employees to implement solutions.”