With President Donald Trump’s recent appointment of two new members to the National Labor Relations Board, graduate student unionization efforts could falter.
Columbia’s graduate students have sought to unionize for years and had gained a landmark victory last fall when the NLRB overturned a precedent set by a case involving Brown University that banned graduate students from unionizing. Now that the NLRB has new Republican leadership, it remains uncertain whether last fall’s decision—made by a left-leaning board—will be overturned.
After the NLRB overturned the Brown precedent last year, graduate students voted 1602 to 623 to join Graduate Students of Columbia-United Auto Workers.
While the University argued that unionization would reclassify graduate students as workers rather than scholars, graduate students contended that joining a union would help improve issues including payment and health care.
In the weeks following the election, the University filed objections to the vote with the regional office of the NLRB, setting off what could become a multiyear legal battle. The objections, which called for a new election, claimed improper conduct during voting. After the regional office of the NLRB rejected the objections, the University filed exceptions to the objections, sending the case to the national board.
The previously left-leaning federal NLRB will shift right with the appointments of Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel to the five-member board. Although the NLRB still has months to decide whether to uphold the objections, the appointment of two new Republican board members could mean a decision in the University’s favor.
If the objections are upheld, the results of the union’s election will be nullified, and a new vote will be held. The union has continued to organize while awaiting the decision, but if another election on unionization is held, GWC-UAW will have to garner any momentum lost over the past few years.