Early this afternoon, Columbia University shared news of its decision refusing to engage in bargaining with Columbia graduate student unions. In a response to UAW’s request to bargain, Columbia announced that it would instead take the issue of the status of graduate students to a federal appellate court, maintaining that the graduate student-faculty relationship differed from that of employer-employee.
Graduate students finally received the right to unionize in August 2016 after two years of struggle, which oversaw a denied petition and an election. In December of the same year, Graduate Workers of Columbia University-UAW voted to unionize by a nearly 1000-point margin, a move publicly supported by SGA and, later, CCSC.
Columbia’s response to UAW was reported to the Columbia community in a statement from Provost John Coatsworth, included below for your convenience.
Update 11:50 pm: The Graduate Workers of Columbia University-UAW released a statement condemning the University’s choice to decline to bargain with them, a choice they claim is illegal. The statement also accuses the University of failing to respect their “democratic mandate” and taking away their rights to collective bargaining. There will be a demonstration Thursday, February 1 at noon on Low Steps to protest Columbia’s “delay tactics.” The full text of the statement is included after the jump.
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community:
The effort by the United Auto Workers to unionize graduate and undergraduate students who serve as teaching and research assistants elicits strong views in and outside our community for understandable reasons. At stake, from the perspective of those seeking to establish a union, are promises of higher compensation and improved benefits. Others among us are deeply concerned about what it means to have an outside party involved in what are ultimately academic and intellectual judgments by faculty members.
We are announcing today our decision not to engage in bargaining with union representatives and to seek review of the status of student assistants by a federal appellate court. We recognize the potential, indeed the likelihood, for disappointment and dispute in our community. Needless to say, we have not come to this decision lightly. Because of the principles at stake—principles essential to the University’s mission of training scholars—we have declined to bargain until the legal process has been allowed to run its course. We remain convinced that the relationship of graduate students to the faculty that instruct them must not be reduced to ordinary terms of employment. It is a conviction that, in the end, made this admittedly difficult decision straightforward for us. While the National Labor Relations Board’s position on student assistants has shifted repeatedly with changes in political administrations, the University’s view has remained constant, as has our well-established record of collective bargaining with the several unions that appropriately represent thousands of Columbia employees.
Our concern for these principles and for safeguarding the University’s mission exists alongside our acknowledgment of the concerns students have expressed during the period of union organizing. This is why we have been working productively with the Graduate Student Advisory Council, the Engineering Graduate Student Council, and other student government bodies to address stipend and quality of life issues, and why we will continue to do so. Indeed, within a short time, the University will be announcing a series of new enhancements for graduate students.
In past communications to you about unionization, I have said that we are determined to improve the experience of research and teaching assistants at Columbia because we want to continue to attract the very best graduate students in the world. Our current research and teaching assistants belong to that group of world-class students and future scholars. We have made a lasting commitment to your future, want you to thrive intellectually and personally while you are here, and, therefore, are deeply invested in addressing your concerns. I look forward to continuing to work with you—and for you—in pursuit of these goals.
John H. Coatsworth
Graduate Workers of Columbia University-UAW Statement
Columbia declares it will break the law by refusing to bargain with our union
Join us Feb. 1 to protest Columbia’s announcement that it will break the law!
In an email sent earlier today to the Columbia community, Provost Coatsworth announced that the University will refuse to bargain with our union. It is an audacious proclamation, showing that the University would rather break the law than to recognize us as workers. That it would rather break the law than respect our democratic mandate. Seeking “review of the status of student assistants by a federal appellate court” is an announcement that the university is now breaking the law by refusing to bargain with our certified union. To get to a court, the University must first wait for us to file a charge against it with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for its failure to bargain – an unfair labor practice. It must then wait for the NLRB to investigate and to issue an Order to Bargain against them. Only then will Columbia have a chance to present its claims to a federal court.
The administration has made themselves clear on where their convictions stand. They are waiting for a President Trump appointed NLRB to take away our collective bargaining rights, to throw away our democratic election and ignore their own principles for democracy.
While it is a deeply disappointing to continue putting legal hurdles in the way of justice, their action merely underscores the need to continue building majority support until they finally respect our choice and start bargaining. It also ignores the growing nature of support here at Columbia and the national momentum for graduate worker unionization.
Join us on the steps of Low Library on Thursday, February 1 at 12PM in response to the Columbia administration’s hypocrisy. They have delayed respecting our democratic choice for over three years now. We are not going to let them delay any longer.
We will also hold multiple general body meetings across the campuses the week of February 12th. Watch your email for more information on rooms and times.
Throughout the past 3 ½ years, we have repeatedly proven to the University that the growing majority of Columbia research and teaching assistants support our union. Just last month, over 2,000 of us signed a petition calling on the university to start bargaining so we can negotiate for real recourse against sexual harassment.
Please join us on Thursday. Despite the administration’s delay tactics we continue to grow stronger together.
Remember to use these hashtags on social media: #WeAreWorkers #CUBargainNOW
Graduate Workers of Columbia – UAW Local 2110, Bargaining Committee
Tania Bhattacharyya, History
Ian Bradley-Perrin, Sociomedical Sciences
Olga Brudastova, Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics
Noura Farra, Computer Science
Trevor Hull, Chemistry
Kate Jackson, Political Science
Rosalie Ray, Urban Planning
Justin Steinfeld, Integrated Program
Takaya Uchida, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Angela Woodall, Communications