LATEST UPDATES | BRIEFS ON REVIEW + AMICUS BRIEFS
HEARING DATES | UPDATES | TRANSCRIPTS | FILINGS | MEDIA | FAQS
8/23/2016: Read the full decision here.
10/12/2016: Filings on Eligibility Issues
10/31/2016: Direction of Election
1/4/2017: Supplemental Decison on Objections and Notice of Hearing
2/1/2016: Briefs – Union | Employer
– Hearings have concluded.
Hearings are public and at the National Labor Relation Board’s office at 26 Federal Plaza. If you would like to attend the hearings please contact us.
12/23/2015 One Step Closer!
We have great news! The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just granted review of our petition to win formal recognition of GWC-UAW. This means that the Board’s top arm in Washington, DC, is now considering two cases, ours and the SENS-UAW petition at The New School, and could restore our right to collective bargaining as soon as this spring. Combined with our great event on December 4 and outpouring of community support, we go into winter break on a high note and will keep you informed of any new developments. Have a nice break and get ready to hit the ground running after the new year.Click here for more updates on our hearings:
11/13/2015 Another step toward winning union rights!
We took another exciting step toward winning formal recognition of our union today. In our ongoing effort to restore our right to collective bargaining as RAs and TAs, GWC-UAW filed a request with the Washington, DC, office of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to review our petition for a union election. We are optimistic that they will grant review, as they did last month in a case involving RAs and TAs at The New School, and hope they move swiftly. You can read the full request for review here.
As you recall, our petition was dismissed two weeks ago by the NLRB regional director in NYC, because she felt “constrained” by the 2004 Brown University decision that took away the right to collective bargaining for RAs and TAs at private universities. While she dismissed the petition, we believe her decision and analysis of our current case included ample material for the NLRB in DC to not only grant review, but also to ultimately overturn Brown and direct an election where we could demonstrate our majority support for GWC-UAW and win formal recognition of our union. If the NLRB holds an election, and a majority of participating RAs and TAs vote “yes” for the union, Columbia would have a legal obligation to engage in good-faith negotiations over pay, benefits and working conditions.
The regional director’s decision made clear what we all know already: we perform critical services for Columbia’s core teaching and research missions; we receive compensation in return for those services; and the University directs our work. As the regional director put it, “In many respects, the duties of student assistants are the same as those of admittedly ’employee’ counterparts on the Columbia University faculty.” In short, WE ARE WORKERS and we deserve to have that fact recognized once and for all.
10/30/2015 EXCITING NEWS: NLRB Regional Board decision!
We’re ecstatic that the regional director for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision today on our petition to have GWC-UAW as our union! Click here to read the full decision.
While the regional board director has dismissed our petition, in her analysis she makes clear that WE ARE WORKERS and the only reason she is not able to order an election is because she does not have jurisdiction to overturn a 2004 federal NLRB decision, Brown University, that stripped graduate workers of our right to collective bargaining.
We now have two weeks to file a request for review with the NLRB in Washington, DC. We look forward to putting our case in front of the federal board and hope they move quickly in making a decision. Just two weeks ago, the federal board voted 3-1 in favor of reviewing the SENS-UAW case at The New School to determine whether to overturn Brown.
We are optimistic that once the federal board makes a decision it will be in our favor and we continue to call on the Columbia administration to remain neutral, respect our democratic choice to form a union, a choice the majority of us have continually chosen since last Fall.
6/24/2015 Final Briefs Have Been Submitted
6/6/2015 NLRB Hearings Have Concluded
The last month of hearings at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was busy with testimony introduced by us and by the administration’s expensive anti-union law firm, Proskauer Rose L.L.P. Administrators, faculty, expert witnesses, and our own colleagues were called to testify. The testimony repeatedly supported our argument that we are workers as well as students. The work that we do as Teaching and Research Assistants is integral to Columbia University’s mission to “advance knowledge and learning at the highest level.”
Testimony by Dean Soulaymane Kachani from the School of Engineering and Longxi Zhao, a Teaching Assistant from the Chemical Engineering department, showed how the university already treats our employment as workers separately from our standing as students. And with each day we do not have a union, the university will continue to arbitrarily make decisions without providing us with due process.
Columbia’s administration also paid $735 an hour to have Princeton University Professor Henry Farber testify that graduate worker unionization negatively affects universities, but when cross-examined he admitted he had no empirical evidence for his claims.
GWC-UAW lawyer: Are you aware of any empirical evidence that Unionization has had any negative effects on faculty/student relationships?
GWC-UAW lawyer: Are you aware of any empirical evidence that union representation has damaged academic freedom?
Transcripts of all the hearings can be found on here. Final briefs will be filed by June 24th. We are confident that the NLRB will come to a decision in a timely manner and reverse the 2004 Brown precedent, in recognition that Research and Teaching Assistants at private universities are workers. Our colleagues at public universities already have this recognition; as a result, over 60 public universities, including the University of California and the University of Washington, have legally recognized graduate unions.
5/4/2015 We are Students *and* Workers
On March 13, the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, DC ruled unanimously to order hearings in our case to consider restoring collective bargaining rights for graduate workers. Hearings began on March 31 and the administration and their expensive anti-union legal team have come out swinging. Calling GWC-UAW a “charade” and a “shell game,” Columbia’s lawyers and administrators cast the scholarly temperament aside in order to repeatedly mischaracterize the work of RAs and TAs. Yet while witnesses including GSAS Dean Carlos Alonso have tried to deny that we are workers, their arguments ring hollow. Sure, we learn while we teach students and conduct research, but we are also performing the labor that supports the university’s core mission — a fact that Alonso could not deny.
Hearings resume May 12. We remain confident in our legal case, have the democratic will of Columbia’s graduate workers on our side, and look forward to the restoration of our statutory bargaining rights. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter feeds for the latest news, and this page on our website for regular updates and FAQs explaining the hearings and unionization process
4/10/2015 Columbia Administration Continues to Fight Our Majority Choice:
Two weeks into GWC-UAW’s historic hearings at the regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on our right to collective bargaining, we are disappointed that the Columbia administration continues to waste valuable resources attempting to deny a basic fact: The research and teaching we do for Columbia is work.
While the administration’s expensive anti-union law firm, Proskauer Rose L.L.P., argues that we are not workers, their witnesses so far have helped confirm that we are both students and employees. We believe their testimony will help us achieve a historic decision restoring the legal right of RAs and TAs at private universities to engage in collective bargaining.
The Director of the Center for the Core Curriculum, for example, conceded in his testimony that graduate student employees have the same duties and responsibilities, training, evaluations, and hiring processes as other employees (faculty, adjuncts, postdocs, etc.) who teach in that program. Yet, Columbia still insists on denying our status as employees.
The administration’s lawyers have called our union a “shell game” and “charade” orchestrated by the UAW. As a grad worker-run union that delivered boxes of 1,700 signed support cards from the majority of graduate student workers to the NLRB, we call on the administration to stop wasting precious resources in this attempt to block our democratic decision.
3/26/2015 NLRB Hearings to Commence:
On March 13, the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, DC ruled unanimously to order hearings in our case. This is tremendous news, as it means that we can now argue for our collective bargaining rights – and those of graduate workers at private universities across the country – in hearings before the NLRB Regional Director. We still anticipate challenges ahead; the administration, after all, has hired the expensive and renowned anti-union law firm, Proskauer Rose, to fight us. The firm will surely to do everything they can to slow down this process,. But we are confident we have the law on our side – not to mention the democratic will of Columbia’s grad RAs and TAs. – and we can’t wait to make our case! Hearings will commence on March 31.
AFL-CIO | American Federation of Teachers | American Association of University Professors | Attorney Ellen Darin | Labor-Social Science Professors | National Association of Graduate-Professional Students | NLRB General Counsel | Service Employees International Union and Committee of Interns and Residents | United Steel Workers
Check out the the latest press coverage on our hearings here.
- Notice and Invitation to File Briefs 1/13/2016
- Order Granting Request for Review 12/23/2015
- Columbia University’s Response to Request for Review 11/20/2015 | Petitioner’s Opposition to Employer’s Conditional Request for Review 11/20/2015
- Petitioner’s Request for Review 11/13/2015 | Columbia University’s Conditional Request for Review 11/13/2015
- Regional Board Director’s Decision 10/30/2015
- Petitioner’s Brief to the Regional Director 6/24/2015 | Columbia University’s Brief to the Regional Director 6/24/2015
- NLRB Order Granting Request for Review 3/13/2015
- Petitioner’s Request for Review 2/20/2015 | Columbia University’s Reply to Petitioner’s Request for Review 2/27/2015
- NLRB Region Order Dismissing Petition 2/6/2015
- Petitioner’s Response to Order to Show Cause 1/20/2015 | Columbia University’s Response 1/27/2015
- What is the NLRB?
- What is the NLRB process?
- What is the Brown decision and how does it impact the NLRB process for graduate workers at private universities?
- Where is GWC in the NLRB process?
- What’s the difference between a student and a worker?
- What is the Columbia Administration’s current stance?
- Are GWC-UAW’s NLRB filings available online?
UPDATED August 16, 2016
- What is the NLRB decision?
- When do we expect the NLRB decision?
- If the NLRB overturns the Brown decision, will Columbia have to recognize the Union?
- If the NLRB holds an election, who can vote?
- When would the vote take place?
- How does the vote work?
- How many people have to vote yes for us to establish GWC-UAW as our Union?
- If GWC-UAW wins the election, what happens next?
The NLRB, or National Labor Relations Board, is a federal agency that was established to safeguard workers’ rights as defined in the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which lays out the right to collective bargaining and related matters.
The typical NLRB process begins when employees submit a petition seeking to be represented by a union. The petition is then evaluated by the NLRB’s Regional Director, who conducts an investigation and holds hearings — if there are disputes between the union and employer — in order to determine which employees can be part of the union’s “bargaining unit,” or the group that will be covered in a union contract. Once the bargaining unit has been determined, the Regional Director will then conduct a representation election, in which all members of the bargaining unit can vote yes or no on forming a union. If a majority of voters votes yes, then the union is certified and empowered to elect a bargaining committee, democratically determine bargaining priorities, and sit down with the employer to negotiate a contract, which must then be ratified by a majority vote of those eligible.
Graduate workers at private universities have to travel a slightly more complicated route through the NLRB because of a partisan 3-2 decision reached in 2004 in the case of Brown University. In Brown, the Bush-appointed majority found that graduate workers at private universities are primarily students and thus do not have the right to collective bargaining. Because of this decision, graduate workers at private schools must either seek voluntary recognition by their universities (as happened at NYU in 2013), or have the NLRB overturn the 2004 Brown precedent and restore collective bargaining rights for RAs and TAs. Given the Board’s current pro-employee majority, which has demonstrated a commitment to furthering the right of employees to engage in collective bargaining, and their repeated indications that they wish to reconsider the Brown decision, we believe there has never been a better time for graduate workers at private universities to petition the NLRB to overturn Brown.
In contrast to private universities, graduate workers at public universities are covered by state labor laws, many of which recognize collective bargaining rights. Indeed, there are established labor unions for graduate workers at more than 60 public universities nationwide.
GWC-UAW approached the Columbia Administration in December 2014 with the hope of negotiating a process for voluntary recognition. When the administration failed to respond, we submitted a petition to the NLRB Regional Director for New York. In early February, the Regional Director, at the request of the University, dismissed our petition based on the precedent set by the 2004 Brown decision. GWC-UAW then appealed to the NLRB in Washington, DC, urging the Board to reinstate the petition and conduct a hearing in order to build a body of facts on which to reevaluate Brown. The National Board agreed with GWC-UAW, and on March 13 ordered the New York Regional Director to hold hearings on our case. These hearings began on March 31 and ended in June.
In October 2015 the NLRB Regional Director dismissed our petition citing that she was constrained by the Brown decision, but found that research and teaching assistants for all purposes were workers. We subsequently filed a motion to request review by the NLRB in Washington, DC.
GWC-UAW believes that there is no incompatibility between being a student and a worker. When RAs and TAs work in labs and teach seminars and discussion sections, we perform the revenue-generating labor that makes Columbia a world-class institution. We believe this labor clearly makes us employees under the terms of the National Labor Relations Act, and thus gives us the right to bargain collectively over the conditions under which we perform this work. This is also true of apprentices, who learn while working but have the right to unionize under the terms of the NLRA.
The Columbia Administration has refused to recognize our democratic majority. Instead, they have hired an expensive, private law firm that specializes in helping employers stop unionization campaigns, Proskauer Rose, to fight us at the NLRB and slow the process down as much as possible. Proskauer Rose’s NLRB filings have rehearsed stale arguments suggesting that we cannot be workers because we are also students. President Bollinger has also made comments to this effect, claiming that collective bargaining for academic workers would somehow be detrimental to the “scholarly temperament.” Left unspecified is why being both a student and a worker is somehow incompatible, or how collective bargaining will prejudice our work as scholars — likely because there is no evidence that it will.
Documents pertaining to our NLRB case can be found here.
What is the NLRB decision?
Based on petitions for union representation filed by a majority of research and teaching assistants (RAs and TAs) at Columbia University (GWC-UAW) and at The New School (SENS-UAW), the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is likely to decide soon whether or not to restore the right to collective bargaining for RAs and TAs at private universities. The NLRB affirmed this right in 2000, in a case at New York University, after which RAs and TAs there voted to unionize and negotiated major improvements – including a 38 percent increase to minimum stipends and paid health insurance for the first time – in the first-ever union contract for RAs and TAs at a private university. George W. Bush appointees to the NLRB took away this right in a 2004 ruling regarding a similar petition at Brown University, saying that RAs and TAs were primarily students and that, therefore, private universities had no obligation to bargain with unions of RAs and TAs.
When do we expect the NLRB decision?
While we cannot guarantee an exact time when the NLRB will make a decision on the petitions at Columbia and the New School, many observers believe they will decide before the end of summer 2016.
If the NLRB overturns the Brown decision, will Columbia have to recognize the Union?
If the NLRB overturns Brown, the ruling itself will not require Columbia to recognize and bargain with the Union. It would trigger a process where the NLRB would schedule an election in which RAs and TAs would vote on having GWC-UAW be our Union. If a majority votes “yes,” then the NLRB would certify GWC-UAW as our Union, and Columbia would be legally obligated to bargain in good faith with our elected bargaining committee for a contract.
If the NLRB holds an election, who can vote?
If the NLRB overturns the Brown decision, part of the decision would be determining the “bargaining unit,” the group of workers who are eligible to unionize. Those included in that defined unit would be eligible to vote. At both Columbia and The New School, based on majority support from all parts of campus, the Union has petitioned to represent all RAs and TAs.
When would the vote take place?
Details such as time, place and who is eligible to vote are worked out between the union, the university, and the NLRB. If the decision comes before the end of the summer, we would expect to have the election in the Fall semester.
How does the vote work?
The election is administered by the NLRB. Typically, the vote would be held onsite at the university and all eligible voters would be notified in advance of the times and locations. The ballot would ask voters to indicate “yes” to representation by GWC-UAW or “no union.” The vote is by secret ballot.
How many people have to vote yes for us to establish GWC-UAW as our Union?
It takes a simple majority of those voting to establish GWC-UAW as our Union, but if we want to build momentum to win a strong contract, it will be important to have support from a majority of all eligible RAs and TAs.
If GWC-UAW wins the election, what happens next?
After a successful election, we would do the following to prepare for and engage in the process of negotiating a contract with Columbia: nominate and elect a bargaining committee from among RAs and TAs; based on existing and further surveys, the committee would develop initial bargaining goals; the committee would ask for RAs and TAs to vote on those goals; the committee would work to schedule dates with the University to start contract negotiations; when the committee has negotiated a tentative agreement with the University they feel they can recommend, RAs and TAs would vote whether to ratify it as the first contract; after the contract is ratified, the membership would elect representatives who help run the Union and help members with any problems they have in the workplace.