Education, Features, Law and Politics, New York

UAW Organizing at Colleges but Columbia University Resists

July 9, 2018

By Neal Tepel

NEW YORK, NY – Without a union, graduate workers have little recourse on issues such as low stipends, health care, parental leave, sexual harassment, academic fees, parking and many other issues. But what may be most important to many graduate workers is the stability a binding contract brings to the workforce,

Throughout the country colleges are recognizing workers have a right to join unions as their legal bargaining representative. Academic workers at the University of Connecticut (UConn), Harvard University, the University of Washington (UW), The New School in New York City and Columbia University all made national news by organizing and fighting for their right to be UAW members.

At Harvard, graduate workers are setting up a bargaining committee to negotiate their first contract after they voted to join the UAW. At UConn, the state legislature approved a new contract for the school’s graduate employee union while UConn post-doctorate workers will be granted card check to join the UAW.  At The New School, bargaining continues on a contract for 700 academic student workers who are members of  SENS-UAW Local 7902. Post-doctoral workers at the University of Washington in Seattle achieved union status.

Columbia University in New York City, however, is refusing to recognize that their employees can be represented by a union. Columbia University graduate workers walked off the job during finals to protest the administration not recognizing their union, even though the election was certified by the National Labor Relations Board. The administration is refusing to negotiate a contract with their employees.

“Columbia should take Harvard’s cue and sit down with their graduate employees to bargain a contract not only to help graduate workers but to move the entire university forward,” said Julie Kushner, director of Region 9A. “Graduate employees not only work at their universities, but they want them to succeed in their academic mission just as much as the administration. It’s past time for Columbia to do the right thing and come to the table.”

The resistance to employee representation at Columbia surprised  many in the community and local legislators considering the progressive credentials of President Lee Bolger and others at the college. Its shocking to note that the administration has proceeded with an aggresive anti-union strategy including asking the Trump administration to throw out the results of a federally certified election to avoid bargaining.

“We work hard and are dedicated to the core principles of this university, but we have had enough,” said Olga Brudastova, a teaching assistant at Columbia’s Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Department. “We work long hours for Columbia, and most of us take home less than $30,000 a year while securing millions in grants and research funding. We want a union because we want real recourse when faced with sexual harassment or assault, and progress on issues like late pay, dilapidated lab facilities, and benefits. We won a union election with 72 percent of the vote 16 months ago – and the law is clear. Columbia must bargain with us. As long as they refuse to respect our legal rights, we will take action to take our power back.”

July 9, 2018

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