National education and labor news

Columbia graduate students vote to unionize

Exercising a new federal right to organize, graduate students at Columbia University have voted to form a union. The vote was 1,602 to 623, according to the United Automobile Workers, which now will represent some 3,500 Columbia graduate students. 

“Basically, our concerns are the concerns of every worker in any workplace: health care, benefits for dependents, late payments, housing opportunities — since Columbia provides them — and grievance procedures,” said Olga Brudastova, a graduate student and teaching assistant in Columbia’s civil engineering and engineering mechanics department.

The union will be the first to represent graduate students since the National Labor Relations Board ruled in August 2015 that students working as teaching and research assistants had a federal right to unionize because they could be considered employees if they were paid for work overseen by the university. That decision reversed a 2004 labor board decision that graduate students were primarily students, not employees.

Gary N. Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Massachusetts, warned that Columbia could delay negotiating with the new union until President-elect Donald Trump appoints members to the labor board, which could then reverse itself once again on the issue.

 “The administration is not going to be a union-friendly administration,” he said.

The New York Times, Dec. 9

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