Columbia University's Butler Library (224060)
Credit: Contributed

Before 2018 came around, the National Labor Relations Board offered Columbia University graduate workers a Christmas present.

In mid-December, the NLRB certified the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW as the union for graduate research and teaching assistants at the institution. Ever since voting to form a union, Columbia’s graduate workers have complained that school officials, including president Lee Bollinger, have refused to collectively bargain with them. Graduate workers voted to form a union near the end of 2016.

After rejecting Columbia officials’ objections to graduate workers unionizing, the NLRB said in a statement, “Here, the Employer has failed to carry its burden. The Employer’s evidence shows that the Region’s inconsistent handling of voter-identification procedures potentially affected just four ballots at most. The election covered a unit of over 4,000 eligible voters, in which the Petitioner won by a 979-vote margin. In these circumstances, we find no reasonable doubt as to the fairness and validity of the election.”

Attempts to contact a representative at Columbia for comment were unsuccessful by press time.

Olga Brudastova, a Ph.D. student and teaching assistant in Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, said that the administration has run out of options to stall negotiations.

“After months of disingenuous delays by Columbia, we are excited to win certification of our union,” said Brudastova in a statement. “No more excuses. The Columbia administration needs to respect the law and start bargaining immediately.” Graduate workers at New York University, The New School, Brandies University, American University and Tufts University have seen officials come to the bargaining table after graduate workers voted to unionize.

In September, graduate workers testified in front of a panel of elected officials and discussed their desire to form a union that will address dilapidated lab conditions that inhibit engagement in federally funded research on major diseases, seal up better protections against sexual harassment and provide better health benefits for research assistants and teaching assistants.

In November, graduate workers at Columbia, Boston College, Harvard and Northeastern universities held mass demonstrations to protest their respective university presidents for not standing up to President Donald Trump’s administration. Their demonstrations were also part of a movement to fight back against their school’s reluctance to come to the bargaining table. In a letter to Bollinger, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders extolled the value of labor unions and chastised the school president for relying on an entity that he feels has been poisoned by Trump.

“Unions not only play a critically important role protecting and strengthening America’s middle class, but when unions are strong, the economic gains are spread throughout the economy to union and non-union members alike,” wrote Sanders. “These are values and outcomes that I would hope all institutions of higher learning would enthusiastically embrace as fundamental to a democratic society.”

Sanders continued, “To appeal this decision to an anti-worker, Trump-appointed National Relations Labor Board (sic) is not something that a world class institution of higher learning should do.”