Unions, and workers in general, have made some gains over the past five years. Graduate student workers can be included on that list.
Last week, Columbia University Provost John H. Coatsworth announced a 3.75 percent pay increase for teaching assistants and research assistants for four years. Coatsworth also announced plans from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Morningside Professional Schools to raise stipends by at least 3 percent each year for the next three years.
“We’re proving that Columbia University can—and does—do better when we come together to make our departments and schools more inclusive and accessible places to work,” said Paul Katz, a third-year Ph.D. student and a graduate worker in Columbia’s Department of History, in a statement. “We’ve made some tremendous progress, and with our union we’ll be able to work together to make Columbia the strongest university possible.”
When the AmNews asked Ian Bradley-Perrin, a second-year Ph.D. student and graduate worker in Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, about the announcement, he expressed excitement. He also didn’t want people to forget how Columbia’s officials reached this point.
“When I found out about the pay increase, obviously I’m really excited,” said Bradley-Perrin. “But it comes about as a result of pressure from the union. That means the school is paying attention.”
Graduate student workers at Columbia and on the campuses of institutions across the country are currently awaiting a legal decision by the National Labor Relations Board that could open the door for graduate workers nationwide to form unions. The decision could reverse the 2004 ruling by the NLRB involving Brown University and the United Automobile Workers that said graduate workers couldn’t form unions.
In the meantime, Bradley-Perrin keeps working.
“What we’ve been doing on the ground is talking to people,” Bradley-Perrin said. “I’m on campus talking everyday, talking to people in different departments, addressing their interests. Right now, it’s just collecting information, getting them signed up and getting them excited about joining the union.”
All they need is for the NLRB to give them the OK. But if the agency does not?
“I would be very surprised if it didn’t lead to a wave of graduate workers unions across the country,” said Bradley-Perrin. “We’re gonna to continue to fight and put pressure on the administration to make changes.”