In Milestone, Columbia U. Graduate Students Vote to Unionize

[Updated (12/9/2016, 5:16 p.m.) with comments from the university.]

Research and teaching assistants at Columbia University have voted to unionize as the Graduate Workers of Columbia, an affiliate of the United Auto Workers union, according to a news release issued on Friday by the union.

The National Labor Relations Board ruled in August that graduate students who serve as research and teaching assistants at Columbia were primarily employees, not students, and so could unionize under federal labor law. The ruling reversed a 12-year-old decision involving Brown University, and threw open the doors for graduate students to organize into collective-bargaining units at private colleges and universities.

The graduate students at Columbia are the first at a private college in the country to form a union since that ruling. The group voted 1,602 to 623 in favor of unionizing.

“Today 3,500 RAs and TAs like me have won a voice to make sure Columbia University is the best place possible to learn and work,” said Addison Godel, a teaching assistant at Columbia, in the news release.

In a written statement, John Coatsworth, Columbia’s provost, said the university had told eligible voters to hear arguments for and against unionization. Now, he said, the university will work “to ensure that Columbia remains a place where every student can achieve the highest levels of intellectual accomplishment and personal fulfillment.”

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