As the weeklong graduate student strike came to a close Monday afternoon, capped off by appearances from a few New York politicians, organizers pledged that the union would strike again in the coming academic year.
“We will not be shy to do that,” union spokesperson and SEAS graduate student Olga Brudastova said. “We will come back. It might happen next semester, next academic year, we don’t know yet.”
Columbia’s graduate student union began striking last Tuesday and planned to end its demonstrations today, although a petition from some graduate students sought to extend the strike indefinitely. The strike was the latest development in a long legal dispute with the University over graduate students’ eligibility to form a union.
The final day of the strike featured picketing on College Walk and speeches from union officials and was attended at one point by New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, BC ’88, and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, CC ’69, who represents the federal congressional district in which Columbia is located.
“At a time of growing economic inequality in this country and in this state, the labor movement is the most effective way to diminish that gap,” Nixon said. “Everyone deserves the right to collective bargain and to be a participant in advocating for not only their own wages but their own benefits, and that’s what the graduate students and adjuncts are here trying to do.”
While the strike led to the disruption of many classes in the week leading up to finals, as some professors moved their classes off campus and others cancelled them altogether, the University has maintained its opposition to graduate student unionization. According to data gathered by the union over the course of the week, about 700 students and 200 professors had to attend class in a new location.
In a statement to Spectator, the University reiterated its refusal to bargain, citing that “inserting union representatives into academic relationships would harm the interests of our graduate students.”
According to an op-ed published yesterday by Provost John Coatsworth, the University plans to wait for the union to file an unfair labor practice claim so that the matter can be resolved in court. Brudastova said that the union was still considering whether to file such a claim.
Each day, protestors on the picket line emphasized a different theme. On Wednesday, the theme was “race and immigration,” as groups like the Liberation Coalition and Native American Council rallied in solidarity, while on Friday the picket line featured a stroller brigade to emphasize the union’s demands for subsidized child care. Organizers planned to hold Thursday’s picket line at the medical school, but threats of a legal injunction against striking at a healthcare facility made union organizers relocate to Morningside.
At a debrief meeting after the strike, union organizers discussed plans to publicly demonstrate during graduation and encourage alumni to stop donating unless the University agrees to bargain.
While Columbia’s strike was ongoing, graduate students at Harvard University successfully voted to unionize. Harvard’s administration has yet to file any exceptions to the vote, suggesting that Harvard plans to recognize the union and begin bargaining.