NLRB official tosses university’s objections, certifies UAW win at Columbia



NEW YORK—Maybe now, Columbia University, after waging a three-year campaign against its teaching assistants and research assistants who voted to unionize with the Auto Workers, will sit down and bargain with them.

That’s because the university was left on March 7 without much of a legal leg to stand on after National Labor Relations Board hearing officer Rachel Mead Zweighaft tossed out all of Columbia’s objections to the vote results last December.

Zweighaft reported UAW Local 2110 won, 1,602-623, with 647 challenged ballots, to represent the TAs and RAs at the prestigious private university. The new TA-RA unit, which calls itself the Graduate Workers at Columbia-UAW, has 4,256 eligible workers, NLRB records show. There weren’t enough challenged ballots to affect the outcome, Zweighaft noted.

The Columbia election is important, as the dispute over it led the NLRB to reverse a prior Bush-era ruling and declare TAs and RAs are “employees” who can organize and unionize under federal labor law. The Bush NLRB stated the primary relationship at private universities such as Columbia was as students, not as employees. That made them ineligible.

The latest NLRB ruling opened the way for union organizing drives at other private universities nationwide, primarily by the Auto Workers and the Teachers. Coincidentally, the same day Zweighaft announced the Columbia decision, the UAW filed for an union recognition election at Boston College, a private college. That unit would cover 1,200 TAs and RAs.

TAs and RAs at Columbia not only won the December vote, but signed a petition in January urging the university to drop the objections and start bargaining. They also organized a rally defending foreign-born TAs and RAs against Trump administration anti-immigrant executive orders. The university had no immediate comment on Zweighaft’s decision.

The university’s six objections that Zweighaft dismissed were minuscule, including one university charge that video filming of both pro- and anti-union TAs and RAs, done for Columbia’s student newspaper, prejudiced the vote.

“We are excited about the board’s decision upholding the overwhelming result of our democratic vote,” Olga Brudastova, a research assistant in Columbia’s Department of Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics, told UAW.

“Now that we’ve officially won our union, we can focus on bargaining improvements in a fair contract, including things like stronger protections against sexual harassment, as well as broader efforts like defending funding for climate change research and expanding the rights of international students to work in the US after graduation. We look forward to working with the administration to help make Columbia the best place it can be to work and study for everyone.”

“Confronting the major challenges facing U.S. higher education – winning debt-free college, increasing STEM funding, protecting diversity and inclusion on campus and more – will require the power and strength of workers’ collective voices, especially in the era of Trump” said Julie Kushner, director of UAW Region 9A, which includes New York and New England.  The same day as the Columbia win, Region 9A filed the election petition at Boston College.

In a Facebook posting, Boston College TA Betsy Pingree, a PhD history student and daughter of an Operating Engineer, said her research on U.S. history, specifically on  industrialization, migration and the environment, reinforces the need for the union at BC.

“I want a union at BC because I believe that all workers deserve a fair, collectively-bargained contract with their employer. As the daughter of a 40-year union member, I know firsthand that workers and employers both benefit from unionized workplaces. Working with other grad students towards unionization has given me the opportunity to connect with students outside of my own department. I know that a graduate employee union will help Boston College to be a place for social justice,” Pingree added.   


COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY TAS AND RAS who went to the National Labor Relations Board’s New York regional office for a hearing on the university’s attempt to overturn their election win pose outside the NLRB’s door. The board’s hearing officer tossed out the university’s objections, letting the TAs and RAs unionize with UAW Local 2110. Photo by Graduate Workers at Columbia-UAW via PAI Photo Service.


GRADUATE STUDENT TAS AND RAS at Boston College filed for an NLRB-run union recognition election, with the UAW, the same day the union won at Columbia. Photo by the BC Graduate Student Workers-UAW via PAI Photo Service.

Source: PAI