The graduate student union has announced that it will not file an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board, choosing instead to pursue “relentless disruption”as a means of escalating pressure on Columbia given the University’s continued refusal to bargain.
Since graduate students voted to unionize in December 2016, the University has remained opposed to unionization and is seeking to challenge their right to do so in federal appellate court. The University’s lengthy dispute over graduate students’ eligibility to unionize culminated in a weeklong strike in April that left dozens of core classes without professors or teaching assistants as protestors marched in a picket line on College Walk.
According to the statement on the union’s website, organizers plan to “prepare for further strike action” and escalate existing means of protest. Union spokesperson and bargaining committee member Olga Brudastova said that the union does not yet have specific plans for the coming semester, but the growing movement for graduate student unionization has inspired an even greater motivation to unite and take action.
“People are ready to fight and take whatever means necessary to bring Columbia to the bargaining table,” Brudastova said. “Even though we are not there yet, the past year and a half has seen a unique movement of union workers organizing across the country, so it still feels very much like we are moving in the right direction.”
Since the NLRB officially certified the Graduate Workers of Columbia last year, the increasing number of anti-union rulings throughout the nation has left the fate of graduate student unionization uncertain. Most recently, the 2018 U.S. Supreme court case Janus v. AFSCME prohibited unions from obligating all public-sector employees to pay “fair-share fees,” a change that some believe will weaken the effectiveness of unions.
Organizers at Yale, Boston College, and the University of Chicago, whose graduate students have all voted to unionize, have also withdrawn their petitions from the NLRB in anticipation of a judgement by a new Republican majority on the board. However, administrations at Brown, Harvard, NYU, and the New School have announced their decisions to cooperate with its graduate students rather than pursue legal recourse.
Citing the growing number of private universities that have agreed to bargain with their graduate student unions, Brudastova said that she urges Columbia to follow their lead rather than use litigation as a crutch.
“The University is basically saying that they would rather rely on an anti-labor judicial system than respect graduate students as workers,” Brudastova said. “Other Ivy League schools have agreed to bargain. It’s just very disappointing that Columbia refuses to acknowledge their power to do the same.”