Some time ago, an article titled Timeline of Tug of War for Graduate Student Unions was posted. This past Friday, the rope was pulled a littler harder in the students direction. Graduate students at Columbia University voted 1,602 to 623 in favor of the move to form a union. This union applies to graduate students who work as teachers or research assistants. Their right to be considered employees has been federally protected since late August, and this development now gives their bark a bit more bite. The United Automobile Workers will be representing close to 4,000 of Columbia’s students. This is in response to a petition signed by the private university’s students last summer and ends the back-and-forth history of graduate student unions. Columbia University has been spearheading this fight since August of this year, when their petition helped overturn a 2004 decision by the National Labor Relations Board stating that graduate students could not be granted the power to unionize. “The ruling held that the assistants could not be considered employees because they “are primarily students and have a primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.”, in an article posted on nytimes.com the week after the ruling was officially overturned. The United Automobile Workers will also be representing close to 1,3000 of N.Y.U. graduate students, who accepted their students vote to unionize in 2013. N.Y.U. students move to join the U.A.W comes just three days after Columbia students won their vote. Aside from these two private schools, the U.A.W. represents roughly 30,000 public university research assistants and teachers throughout certain states. The caveat is that it is public, not private, institutions that can choose to let their student workers unionize. Graduate students who work for their private university are now privilege to all the rights afforded by a union! There is no word yet as to when the contract negotiations will start, but the fact that they are starting is what private institutions have been pushing toward for 12 years. Congratulations, Columbia!
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