The graduate student union has opened voting to authorize its bargaining committee to call a strike for all Columbia teaching and research assistants.
Following years of litigation, graduate students voted in December 2016 to join Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers. The Columbia administration remains opposed to graduate student unionization and has refused to bargain with union representatives, instead opting for numerous legal attempts to overturn the ruling that allowed graduate students to unionize.
If two thirds of graduate students who have signed a union support card and turn out to vote choose to support a strike authorization, the bargaining committee will be given power to call a strike at any subsequent point in time. A strike may not begin immediately after a successful vote but rather after Columbia has been given an opportunity to avert a strike by responding to the union’s demands.
Many Core classes and discussion sections of lecture classes are taught by graduate students who would be eligible to strike, raising the possibility of dozens of classes being left without instructors or assignment graders in the weeks leading up to finals. Graduate students would also be unable to hold any off-campus makeup sessions for their students without losing their legal protections against retaliation, according to a union website.
While graduate students would be protected from retaliation against their strike by labor law, many students in STEM fields who choose to participate in a strike would be unable to continue work towards their dissertation without access to their lab space. In the past, engineering students have raised concerns that this requirement will make it significantly more inconvenient to participate in a strike.
Strike authorization voting will continue for 11 days, concluding on Friday, April 13.