Members of the Graduate Workers of Columbia gathered outsideLow Library on Thursday to demand that the administration start officially negotiating with them as a union.
In December, graduate students voted 1602 to 623 to join the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers Union. After the vote, the University filed objections to the election with the National Labor Relations Board, which were rejected earlier this week.
The University can still challenge the beginning of the collective bargaining process in a number of ways. It has the right to file an exception with the NLRB at the federal level, which could overturn the regional board’s decision that the election was legitimate. If this fails, the University could then appeal the NLRB’s decision in federal court.
In addition, the NLRB may reverse its interpretation of the law to prevent all graduate students from unionizing, a prospect made more likely by the Trump administration’s prerogative to appoint new commissioners.
Because of these potential setbacks to official recognition of GWC-UAW, graduate students protested the University administration’s continued efforts to impede unionized bargaining on Thursday. Presenting a petition demanding that the University start negotiations, students and other GWC-UAW members surrounded Low Library with sheets displaying the names of the document’s 32,000 signatories.
Olga Brudastova, a civil engineering Ph.D. student, spokesperson for GWC-UAW, and bargaining committee member, said that students felt frustrated that the outcome of their vote was not accepted by the University.
“We are rallying to get Columbia to respect our democratic choice,” Brudastova said. “They keep delaying this process … but we urge them to stop it and start bargaining with us ASAP. They have until Monday to commit to respecting our democratic voice.”
Supporters of the union have already formed a bargaining committee to begin comprehensive talks with the University, though some graduate students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science have expressed that they felt excluded from this process. Graduate student workers hope that the a contract between the union and the University will cover areas like health care, pay, grievance procedures, and improvements to conditions for international students.
Chloe Vaughn, a student in the Department of Germanic Languages, emphasized that graduate students rely on the University for their livelihoods.
“We all should have a voice at this institution upon which we depend for so much: our health insurance, our income,” Vaughn said.
At several points during the demonstration, organizers encouraged the crowd to chant, “If we don’t get it, shut it down.” While some expressed optimism that talks would begin soon, protesters felt that they needed leverage to compel the University to begin negotiations if their demands for official recognition were not met.
Addison Godel, a Ph.D. student in architecture, said that graduate students had power because of their numbers.
“If everybody comes together … you have strength and at a certain point you can talk about what you can do with that strength,” Godel said. “If [the University] really will never come to the table, we have to talk about how do we force them to the table.”