The National Labor Relations Board decided to review the current precedent that denies recognition for graduate student unions at private universities on Friday afternoon.
The decision comes after the New York chapter of the National Labor Relations Board dismissed a petition on Feb. 6 for union recognition from the Graduate Workers of Columbia—a group of Columbia graduate students seeking official union recognition. The National Labor Relations Board also decided to review a petition from graduate students at the New School on Friday, according to Capital New York.
Students from the Graduate Workers of Columbia say the decision is important, but expected.
"We expected the National Labor Relations Board to grant review," Maida Rosenstein, president of United Auto Workers Local 2110, the union that GWC would join if it gained recognition, said. "This is the only just and democratic way to proceed, because there is no reason for teaching assistants and research assistants not to have the right to decide for themselves on whether or not they want to unionize."
As part of the reconsideration process by the NLRB, the New York regional chapter will hold hearings examining graduate students' relationship with Columbia, after which the NLRB will make a ruling. If the NLRB rules in favor of the GWC, graduate student workers will vote in an election to decide whether or not to form an official union.
The process of legal recognition began when the GWC petitioned for recognition with the New York regional chapter of the NLRB in December. When the New York chapter dismissed the petition last month, it cited the 2004 Brown University precedent, which says that graduate teaching and research assistants are "primarily students" and therefore do not have the right to unionize.
Rosenstein believes that the NLRB will overturn the Brown precedent to recognize graduate student workers' right to unionize.
"We feel very confident that we're going to win this decision, and that teaching assistants and research assistants will be able to vote in a union election, as is their democratic right," Rosenstein said.
While Rosenstein said she is confident of a favorable ruling, the GWC could still officially form if Columbia chooses to voluntarily recognize the union without an NLRB ruling. However, University President Lee Bollinger has said he believes graduate student unionization is "not necessary."
"I don't believe that if there were unionization we would stop thinking about graduate students as students, but it would complicate the matter in ways that I think would not be beneficial. Furthermore, I don't think they would benefit in ways that they're not now benefitting," Bollinger said in an interview with Spectator last month.
Paul Katz, a GWC organizer and graduate student worker in the history department, said that the only private university to grant voluntary recognition was NYU, which recognized its graduate union last December.
"We remain hopeful that Columbia will voluntarily recognize the democratic choice of its graduate workers," Katz said in an email.
If Columbia does not voluntarily recognize the GWC, Katz is optimistic about the union's prospects in the hearing process.
"Should the administration continue to oppose our right to collective bargaining, we look forward to making our case before the NLRB and to a favorable decision re-establishing our statutory bargaining rights," Katz said.