Columbia and grad student unionization

by Henry Farrell on January 3, 2017

It’s not surprising that businesses are likely to take advantage of the incoming Trump administration’s hostility to unions. It’s infuriating that some academic institutions are looking to do the same. Graduate students in Columbia University just voted to organize, citing frustrations with late pay, poor working conditions and so on. The university administration is looking to challenge the vote before the National Labor Relations Board on transparently specious grounds.

In its objections, Columbia said that during the election, “known union agents” stood within 100 feet of a polling place — an area voters had to pass through in order to vote — and had conversations with eligible voters. Columbia also faulted the regional body of the N.L.R.B., saying a last-minute decision not to require voters to present identification might have allowed ineligible voters to cast ballots. Columbia said a board representative improperly removed an election observer.

Given that there was a 2-1 majority in favor of unionization, this argument is, bluntly, horseshit. There are no plausible grounds for thinking that the vote would have gone differently had there not been “known union agents” (whatever that might mean) within 100 feet of voting, nor that there was voter fraud. This is nothing more and nothing less than Columbia deciding to take advantage of a new presidential administration, and an NLRB where an incoming majority of board members will see their mission as gutting the union movement through whatever means and cases present themselves.

At the moment, there appears to be a Facebook petition but I don’t use Facebook. I hope very much that Columbia faculty members put pressure on the university administration to reverse this shameful decision. If the leaders of the unionization effort want support from non-Columbia faculty members (and non-Columbia people more generally), I hope they get that too (and will try to provide updates should there be further information).



rea 01.03.17 at 8:13 pm

It’s all rather pointless, because the revamped Trump-era NLRB will ban grad students from unionizing.


Tabasco 01.03.17 at 11:18 pm

It’s infuriating that some academic institutions are looking to do the same

It’s only infuriating if you have some reasonable expectation that they will behave differently from businesses. It’s very naive to expect that they will behave differently. Many university presidents are wannabe Koch brothers in academic regalia, and even if they are not, are cowed by trustee boards filled with actual Koch brothers equivalents.


Adrian 01.04.17 at 1:49 am

Colimbia is not a business? Not sure there’s much of a distinction anymore.


SC 01.04.17 at 9:47 am

Can Trump’s NLRB decertify GWC-UAW Local 2110 once it’s up and running? There are very few details in that NYT article.


Layman 01.04.17 at 5:36 pm

Tabasco: “It’s only infuriating if you have some reasonable expectation that they will behave differently from businesses.”

Yes, it is true that powerful people will often behave like asses; but it is not true that a posture of faux sophistication – a so-wise and weary ennui – is the right response to that.


Tabasco 01.04.17 at 11:18 pm

Layman: it’s not weary ennui, it’s not even cynicism; it’s a reasonable conclusion based on observable evidence.

The evidence is widespread. Every second discussion on this blog is about university administrators behaving badly.


J-D 01.05.17 at 1:22 am

In general, the fact that people behave badly isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, surprising; but it can be unsurprising and still (depending on your emotional predispositions) infuriating, appalling, or outrageous. To be infuriated, appalled, or outraged can still be a reasonable and appropriate reaction to behaviour that is utterly unsurprising.

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