Teaching assistants and research assistants at Columbia University filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board yesterday requesting an official election to establish a union.
If Columbia graduate students are successful in obtaining and winning an election, Columbia would become the first Ivy League university and only the second private university in the country, along with New York University, to have a graduate teaching assistant union. Success of Columbia’s unionization effort could give momentum to the organizing efforts of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization at Yale.
“It’s wonderful news, it clearly demonstrates how unionization is spreading through the academy,” GESO chair J.T. Way GRD ’05 said. “The movement is sweeping the nation.”
The NLRB will now hold hearings to review the petition and set a date for the election. In reviewing the NYU case, the NLRB determined that teaching and research assistants are officially employees under federal labor law, and that precedent will partially smooth the way for Columbia graduate students to organize. Columbia’s graduate students are supported by the same local United Auto Workers union that aided NYU’s teaching assistants’ efforts to organize.
Columbia’s teaching and research assistants have conducted “a fast and efficient organizing campaign,” said John McMillian, a teaching assistant and member of Columbia’s Graduate Student Employees United.
Graduate Student Employees United began to actively organize in January, said United Auto Workers staff member Christian Sweeny. In contrast, GESO has been organizing for the last decade, but has not yet filed a petition for an election.
McMillian said Graduate Student Employees United’s goal is to hold the election before the end of this semester, but that they most likely will encounter opposition from the Columbia administration.
“It’s clear already the administration doesn’t like the idea,” McMillian said.
McMillian said Gillian Lindt, the interim dean of Columbia’s graduate school of arts and sciences, had sent out an e-mail expressing reservations about and opposition to the unionization efforts.
Lindt did not return a telephone call to her home last night.
“[Columbia] University has to respond in some way,” Sweeny said. “We certainly hope that they will not pursue a delay to the election.”
Sweeny said the success of the petition drive means “the mandate for an election is absolutely clear” and that graduate students were taking a “wait and see approach” to respond to the university.
While Columbia’s graduate students work with United Auto Workers, GESO at Yale is affiliated with locals 34 and 35 and workers looking to unionize at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
“The four unions are in very close alliance, and we like where we fit,” GESO spokesman Carlos Aramayo GRD ’03 said.
The effective campaign at Columbia heartened GESO, Aramayo said.
“It’s great news that at another Ivy League [university] we’ve got graduate students organizing,” Aramayo said. “The more the better.”