The University intends to continue bargaining in good faith with the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW, despite newly proposed regulations by the National Labor Relations Board that would threaten the federal teaching and research assistants’ right to organize, Interim Provost Ira Katznelson announced in an email on Monday.
Following years of argument and deliberation, a 2016 decision by the NLRB overturned precedent to give graduate students at Columbia and other private universities nationwide the right to unionize. It would, however, take another two years and a strike before Columbia agreed to bargain with GWC last November. Negotiations began in February this year.
A new proposed ruling by the NLRB released Friday threatens to overturn the precedent6, effectively stripping teaching and research assistants of their right to unionize by claiming that they should not be categorized as “employees” under the National Labor Relations Act. Under the proposed ruling, the Columbia Postdoctoral Workers-UAW would not be affected, but members of the GWC and similar unions elsewhere could potentially face pushback, according to legal experts. The NLRB has given a 60 day waiting period for public comment concerning the proposed ruling.
Initially, it was unclear how this would affect universities such as Columbia that are already engaged in the bargaining process, outside of effectively preventing graduate student unions from appealing to the board.
Having already begun negotiations with GWC, however, the University has announced its intention to continue bargaining in good faith and stand by the Framework Agreement ratified in November 2018, which aims to preserve the “core academic mission” of Columbia while still outlining terms on which other matters can be decided, including wages, hours of employment, and other issues of employment. It also articulates that Columbia has primary jurisdiction over all matters it deems to be primarily academic in nature. Under this framework, no more strikes would be able to occur until April of next year.
“Regardless [of the NLRB’s proposed regulation], we intend to continue our ongoing negotiations with both [GWC and GPW] units, with the same goal we have always had of signing contracts by spring,” Katznelson wrote in his email. “... We are committed to negotiating in good faith based on the Framework Agreement.”