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Columbia—Can I Get a Grad-Worker-Union-Yes?

Photo Credit: Tiffany Yee-Vo, Graduate Workers of Columbia UAW

In a huge victory graduate workers at Columbia gave a booming #gradunionyes. This after the university denied even recognizing their graduate teaching and research assistants as workers. Yes, not only are graduate workers at Columbia workers, but more importantly, now they are organized workers.

It is the FIRST win for a graduate worker union at a private university won through an official NLRB election. Now they stand 3,500 strong.

This is BIG.

Not Carrie’s Mr. Big, but alas a New York story with big ramifications. Like the working people at Gawker set off a domino effect in digital-worker organizing, and a few hundred fast food workers on strike set off the Fight for 15 across the country, this is a victory bound to carry over the state’s borders to have national significance.

New York University was the first private university to recognize a graduate worker union without an NLRB election. Columbia’s administration resisted recognizing students as workers, and then resisted recognizing those workers as a union. The first case they lost in court. The National Labor Relations Board re-settled the question only a few months back and said yes, graduate students who work are WORKERS. Now the student workers have secured a win through the democratic process of putting it to a vote; Columbia graduate workers voted 1,602 to 623 in favor of forming a union with the UAW.

We can expect this will embolden the active graduate organizing campaigns going on around the country in places like Yale, Cornell and the New School, where working people have to overcome massive opposition by administrations to win their unions, even as institutions of higher learning espouse to be more enlightened and democratic spaces in society. For Columbia’s graduate workers, it means they finally get a seat at the table and a chance for dialogue closer to equal terms, as opposed to the university's administration having unilateral decision-making power. It means they can’t cancel classes at the last minute, pay graduate workers late, or cancel the dental plan like they did this past year without the union of graduate workers having a say. 

While it remains to be seen what emerges in the national picture on organizing graduate workers, for now we got a few bites of the Big Apple and a bigger piece of the pie for working people. Congrats Columbia Graduate Workers and welcome to #1u. 

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