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In a move celebrated by Columbia University’s graduate student union organizers, New York Senate Minority Leader David Paterson certified in a letter to Columbia President Lee Bollinger that a majority of Columbia’s teaching and research assistants support forming a union.

Paterson, a Democrat, announced on Friday the results of a survey conducted by the leaders of Graduate Students and Employees Unite, the group trying to organize a graduate student union at Columbia. GSEU organized the survey waiting for the National Labor Relations Board to rule on the university’s appeal of a 2001 NLRB decision that Columbia’s graduate students have the right to unionize.

GSEU surveyed 2,121 teaching and research assistants — 18 percent of Columbia’s graduate and professional students — on the issue of unionization.

Columbia Graduate School Vice President Henry Pinkham criticized GSEU’s survey tactics in an interview with the Columbia Spectator.

“I wish they would have public discussion about this, but instead they [surveyed students] in complete secrecy,” Pinkham told the Spectator, the student newspaper. “How did they get students to fill out the cards? They cornered them … This is not a democratic way of doing business.”

GSEU only surveyed teaching and research assistants because they are the only potential members of the union the group is trying to form, GSEU spokesman David Carpio said.

“Every individual graduate student has a different issue that they want to see improved at the university and unionization gives us the power to actually negotiate over a variety of issues that are important to us that actually shape our lives,” Carpio said.

Paterson’s announcement brings a high profile to Columbia’s labor activity. Last week, members of Columbia’s clerical worker’s union, who have been in contract negotiations with the university for the past six months, voted by nearly 85 percent to authorize a strike.

— Philip Rucker