Graduate workers and supporters call on university administration to honor collective bargaining rights
NEW YORK – Columbia University research assistants and teaching assistants – whose landmark case restored union rights for graduate workers nationwide – voted 1602 to 623 in favor of joining Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers Union (GWC-UAW). With broad-scale support from members of Congress, New York elected officials, community leaders, faculty and students, graduate workers at Columbia are the first in the country to form their union in the wake of the National Labor Relations Board’s August ruling.
“Today, 3,500 RAs and TAs like me have won a voice to make sure Columbia University is the best place possible to learn and work,” said Addison Godel, a teaching assistant in the Architecture School at Columbia University. “This marks a major victory for the entire Columbia community – we care deeply about the world-renowned teaching and research that happens at our university and are ready to tackle the issues that matter most to us, our students and our neighbors.”
In just the past few weeks, support for graduate workers’ unions has poured in, including from Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congressman Jerry Nadler, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Columbia faculty, other members of Congress and many more.
“We bring in nearly $1 billion each year in grants and contracts and teach courses from chemical engineering and applied physics to biology and religion, but for too long Ivory Tower administrators have been calling all the shots,” said Olga Brudastova, a research assistant in Columbia’s Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. “We came to Columbia because we value inclusive and accessible learning and teaching. We look forward to getting to work on the improvements that will make sure Columbia stays a competitive, world-class institution in the 21st century.”
By working collectively, Columbia graduate workers have already won numerous improvements to parental leave, childcare and pay, but continue to face constant insecurity and unpredictability of working conditions – growing teaching loads, late pay, unreliable health benefits and sexual harassment, with little meaningful recourse. With their union, Columbia graduate workers have a voice on the job to protect these hard-won improvements and bargain for protections that will make their jobs and the university better.
“This is just the beginning of great things to come for the Columbia community and we’re proud to stand with graduate workers to bargain collectively for important improvements to pay and benefits that strengthen academic quality and student success,” said Julie Kushner, the Director of UAW Region 9A. “By standing together, Columbia graduate workers have paved the way for thousands of other research assistants and teaching assistants to have a recognized voice in America’s higher education and build the institutions that we need for a more fair, just and equitable country.”
Columbia graduate workers’ successful union vote follows a landmark labor ruling by the National Labor Relations Board that restored their union rights. The New York Times said that with their union rights restored, “life for many graduate students is about to change for the better.” Since then, graduate workers across the country have been uniting to from their unions and improve their workplaces.
“The UAW has a proud history of helping higher education employees win respect on the job and union rights at public and private universities from coast to coast,” said UAW President Dennis Williams. “More than 38,500 teaching assistants and research assistants have formed their unions with the UAW, cementing real improvements on the job and for their families. Today, we celebrate Columbia graduate workers as they embark on a new journey to build a brighter future at one of our nation’s most prestigious universities.”
The UAW represents more than 38,500 graduate workers at 48 campuses – more than any other U.S. union. After an eight-year effort to win back their union, NYU graduate workers won a neutrality agreement with the university administration in 2013, subsequently negotiating a strong union contract. Since then, graduate workers at Harvard, Harvard Graduate Student Union–UAW (HGSU-UAW) voted in their union election, while thousands of other graduate workers at The New School and other universities are organizing their unions through the UAW.
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