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Uniting Academic Workers: Graduate Workers Organize with the United Auto Workers

  • Lindsey Dayton (a1) and Rudi Batzell (a2)
Extract

On Friday December 9, 2016, Columbia teaching and research assistants elected the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers (GWC-UAW) Local 2110 as their union with 1602 yes and 623 no votes. On December 22, a preliminary count for the Harvard Graduate Students Union-UAW was not conclusive, with 314 challenge ballots exceeding the margin between 1,272 yes and 1,456 no votes. Both elections were possible because the National Labor Relations Board, ruling on a suit brought by Columbia students, overturned a 2004 decision that prohibited the formation of graduate unions in private colleges and universities.

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References
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NOTES

1. Catie Edmondsun, “Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Vote to Unionize,” Columbia Spectator, December 9, 2016.

2. The count at Harvard was delayed for a month to resolve more than 1,200 challenge ballots cast by potentially eligible workers who were not on the list of voters that Harvard provided to the NLRB; Leah Yared, “Challenge Ballots Delay Student Unionization Vote,” The Harvard Crimson, December 8, 2016.

3. In the following four months two other unions filed petitions for certification. The Yale grad workers in UNITE-HERE Local 33, veterans of sustained twenty-five year battle for recognition, filed their petition for a certification election on August 29, immediately after the NLRB decision. However, their proposal for microunits based on ten departments is still awaiting a decision from the NLRB; Ed Stannard, “Yale Grad Students File Petition Seeking Union Certification,” New Haven Register, August 29, 20016. In early November, Duke student workers filed a petition with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) on the heels of an ongoing campaign to win collective bargaining for the adjunct faculty; Jane Stancill, “Duke Graduate Students Seek Vote to Unionize,” The News & Observer, November 10, 2016.

4. Mills, Nicolaus, “The Corporatization of Higher Education,” Dissent 59 (September, 2012): 69 . Pusser, Brian, “Higher Education, the Emerging Market, and the Public Good,” in Knowledge Economy and Postsecondary Education: Report of a Workshop, ed. Graham, Patricia Albjerg and Stacey, Nevzer G. (Washington, DC, 2002), 105–26; Ferrell, Robyn, “Income Outcome: Life in the Corporate University,” Cultural Studies Review 17 (2011): 166 .

5. Powell, Kendall, “The Future of the Postdoc,” Nature 530 (2015): 144–47; the average age at which PIs receives their first R01 grant from the NIH has risen dramatically since the 1970s. Sally Rockey, “Our Commitment to Supporting the Next Generation,” Rock Talk, Blog, National Institutes of Health Extramural Nexus, February 3, 2012. https://nexus.od.nih.gov/all/2012/02/03/our-commitment-to-supporting-the-next-generation/ (accessed February 13, 2017).

6. Bady, Aaron and Konczal, Mike, “From Master Plan to No Plan: The Slow Death of Public Higher Education,” Dissent 59 (September, 2012), 10 .

7. At Harvard, the concerns of student workers go back to the 1930s and 1940s, but little is known about these early efforts; “Lightened Burden for GI Teaching Fellows Guaranteed by Buck,” Harvard Crimson, December 11, 1946.

8. Lee H. Simowitz, “Some Teaching Fellows are Organizing for Better Pay and Better Communications,” Harvard Crimson, February 18, 1967.

9. Columbia University 97 NLRB 424 (1951). In 1970, private university employees were placed under the jurisdiction of the Board. Cornell University 183 NLRB 329, 74 LRRM 1269 (1970).

10. “Deans: IF's are Students, Not Employees,” Harvard Crimson, May 26, 1967.

11. “Teaching Fellows Get Pay Hike,” Harvard Crimson, January 7, 1971.

12. The records of the Harvard Graduate Student and Teaching Fellow Union are held at the Harvard University Archives. HUD. 3438.6000.

13. Jeremy S. Bluhm, “Bread & Butter Battle at the Grad School,” Harvard Crimson, June 15, 1972.

14. Ibid.

15. Dale S. Russakoff, “Grad Union Ends Organizing Efforts for Spring Term,” Harvard Crimson, April 20, 1973.

16. Malin, Martin H., “Student Employees and Collective Bargaining,” Kentucky Law Journal 69 (1981 1980): 135 . Campaigns were active at other state universities, including Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

17. Phillips, Lisa Ann Wunderlich, A Renegade Union: Interracial Organizing and Labor Radicalism, Working Class in American History (Urbana, IL, 2013).

18. “Inroads by Unions among Assistants in Graduate Study,” New York Times, July 8, 1990.

19. Kurtz, Sharon, Workplace Justice: Organizing Multi-Identity Movements, Social Movements, Protest, and Contention, vol. 15 (Minneapolis, 2002); Frank, Miriam, Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America (Philadelphia, 2014).

20. Hurd, Richard W., “Learning from Clerical Unions: Two Cases of Organizing Success,” Labor Studies Journal XIV (1989): 3 .

21. Ibid., 4.

22. Ibid., 8.

23. New York University 332 NLRB 111 (2000).

24. Brown University 342 NLRB 42 (2004).

25. Henrik N. Dullea, “Cornell Graduate Assistants Reject Union Representation,” Cornell Chronicle, October 25, 2002.

26. Shira Schoenberg, “Labor Board Rules TAs now Employees,” Columbia Spectator, November 20, 2000.

27. Sarah M. Shwairi, “In the Name of Solidarity,” Columbia Spectator, January 31, 2002.

28. Derrick Higginbotham, “Rupp's Message is Anti-Union,” Columbia Spectator, March 8, 2002.

29. Sarah M. Shwairi, “In the Name of Solidarity,” Columbia Spectator, January 31, 2002.

30. Smallwood, Scott, “Union? No Thanks,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 48(36) (May 17, 2002): A12–15.

31. Colleen Flaherty, “For Your Anti-Union Information,” Inside Higher Ed online, August 30, 2016, insidehighered.com (accessed January 13, 2017).

32. Smallwood, “Union? No Thanks.”

33. Jonathan Earle, “Union Contract Deadline Looms Closer, but Negotiators Refuse to Compromise,” Columbia Spectator, October 12, 1988.

34. Amba Datta, “Hearings on TAs’ Right to Unionize Commence,” Columbia Spectator, April 20, 2001. “Edward A. Brill, Partner,” http://www.proskauer.com/professionals/edward-brill/ (accessed 10 December 2016).

35. The distinction between campaigns that lost momentum and those that stayed live is largely a material, not a moral, one. Campaigns supported by international unions that represented other (clerical and/or service) workers on campus (most notably GESO-UNITE-HERE!—now Local 33—at Yale and GSOC-UAW at NYU) had greater local capacity in terms of funds and organizing labor, paid and unpaid, to maintain a greater level of continuity in organizing on the ground between the Brown and Columbia decisions. However, apart from the UAW, no other international was prepared to petition the NLRB for recognition in defiance of university administrators, and thus to take on the legal fight against Brown that such a challenge would provoke; Josh Eidelson, “Will the NLRB Let Down Graduate Workers Again?” Working in These Times blog, December 20, 2011, http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/12450/will_the_nlrb_let_graduate_student_workers_down_again/ (accessed December 9, 2016).

36. But even without legal recognition, graduate unions wrested important improvements from university administrations. Furthermore, graduate unions provided a forum for critical discussion and support around issues that university administrations would not address, including, most notably, sexual harassment and assault; Sarah Matthiesen, “The Conversation the Ivies Won't Have,” Jacobin online, August 14, 2014, Jacobinmag.com (accessed January 13, 2017).

37. Karl M. Aspellund, “Teaching Campaign Delivers Section Cap Petition to Mass. Hall,” Harvard Crimson, April 22, 2015.

38. Applications to graduate schools continued to grow in number, exceeding two million for the first time in 2013 and doing so again in 2014; Alum, Jeff and Okahana, Hironao, Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 2004–2014 (Washington, DC, 2014), 9 ; Okahana, Hironao, Feaster, Keonna, and Allum, Jeff, Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 2005–2015 (Washington, DC, 2016), 3 .

39. Shulman, Steven et al. , “Higher Education at a Crossroads: The Economic Value of Tenure and the Security of the Profession,” Academe 102 (2) (2016): 13 ; Ginder, Scott A., Kelly-Reid, Janice E., and Mann, Farrah B., Enrollment and Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2014 (Washington, DC, 2015); Cyranoski, David et al. , “The PhD Factory: The World is Producing More PhDs Than Ever Before: Is it Time to Stop?Nature 472 (2011): 277 ; Powell, Kendall, “The Future of the Postdoc,” Nature 520 (2015): 144–47.

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International Labor and Working-Class History
  • ISSN: 0147-5479
  • EISSN: 1471-6445
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