Many graduate students become research or teaching assistants while completing their Master’s or Ph.D programs. Despite the skills they develop during this time period, their pay and work benefits are lacking. So 60 Columbia University graduate students have formed a committee to organize a labor union. Among their grievances are insolent professors, not receiving maternity leave and other employee-like benefits.
Once they’re organized, the group of 60 recruited 1,700 of Columbia’s 2,800 graduate teaching and research assistants to sign forms stating they were interested in in unionizing. One hundred of those students petitioned Columbia University’s president Lee Bollinger, demanding the institution recognize that graduate students who work on campus should have a labor union. Despite their hard efforts, Columbia denied their requests, believing a labor union could hurt the quality of education it provides.
The Ivy League school can reject the union request due to the 2004 National Labor Relations Board ruling that states graduate teaching and research assistants are solely students and not employees of the school they attend. Therefore, universities are not legally required to create a union for them. Although this ruling is in effect, Columbia students are pressuring their school to follow in the footsteps of New York University. In 2013, New York University agreed to voluntarily recognize and negotiate with its graduate students’ union. In order to have their needs met, Columbia students requested that the labor board of New York provide them with an unionization election but was later denied.
Now, the students are planning to visit with the labor board’s agency in Washington, D.C. and convince them to reverse the 2004 ruling that was initially created by Republicans. Currently the board is majority Democratic and more open to labor causes.
Should graduate students be considered employees of the schools they attend?