On August 23, 2016, in a 3-to-1 decision, the National Labor Relations Board (“the Board”) overturned long-standing precedent to hold that graduate student teaching assistants are statutory employees under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”). The decision in Columbia University, 364 NLRB No. 90, marks yet another major change in United States labor law reversing the standards set forth in Brown University, 342 NLRB 483 (2004).
In an election held this week at a number of campus locations, the eligible voters selected representation by the United Auto Workers (UAW). The December 9, 2016 Tally of Ballots indicated that out of approximately 4,256 eligible voters: 1,602 votes were cast in favor of UAW representation; 623 votes were cast against; and 647 ballots were challenged. The UAW union at Columbia now joins the voluntarily recognized union at New York University as the only two graduate student teaching assistant unions in the country.
What’s next? According to an account in the New York Times:
Gary N. Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., said the university might delay negotiating until President-elect Donald J. Trump appoints members to the labor board, which could reverse itself again on the issue.
“Delay is the employer’s favor,” he said. “The administration is not going to be a union-friendly administration.”
A spokeswoman for Columbia did not respond to a question about whether it might delay negotiations.
As this issue has ping-ponged back and forth from presidential administration to administration, it is not out of the question that the school might challenge an ultimate certification by refusing to bargain. That charge would be unlikely to reach the National Labor Relations Board for resolution until well into the first year of the President-Elect’s term.
More commentary and resources:
- NLRB’s Columbia University case webpage
- “In Milestone, Columbia U. Graduate Students Vote to Unionize” – Chronicle of Higher Education
- “Columbia’s Graduate Student Union is a Nationwide First” – The Nation