Student Life

Columbia University Denies Student Union, Depends on Trump for Help

Kathryn Knight Randolph

February 02, 2018

Columbia University Denies Student Union, Depends on Trump for Help
Graduate students take on the university for union rights.
In 2016, Columbia University graduate students voted to unionize with the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers Union, according to The Huffington Post. This vote made them the second private university in the country to unionize; however, they have since met with legal battles from the university itself and now their fate lies with President Donald Trump. Graduate student unions are not uncommon. In fact, there are 33 graduate student unions in the U.S. as of today, but they exist primarily on public university campuses, although New York University now has a graduate student union. The reason behind unionizing is that most graduate students are actually employed by the universities that they attend. These students are either paid to teach classes, conduct research or perform clerical and administrative duties. But Columbia’s new student union is currently in jeopardy. The university provost announced that the university does not recognize the student union and that they are prepared to fight the validity of the union in court. The interim Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, Dan Driscoll, wrote the union and stated:
“We choose this path not based on a negative view of collective bargaining generally – Columbia has mature bargaining relationships with unions representing many employees – but because of our firm conviction that graduate students are not employees, and that the fundamental and essential purposes of graduate education will be ill served by the institution of a third party between student and teacher.” However, there is another layer to the graduate student union battle. The National Labor Relations Board, which decided that graduate students were in fact employees of the university in 2016, currently has a vacancy on its five-member board, as reported by The Huffington Post. And guess who gets to fill the spot? President Donald Trump.
The Huffington Post states that the board is currently split 2-2, which consists of two liberals siding with the student unions and two conservatives siding with the school. This means that the next appointee from President Trump, who must also be approved by the Senate, will cast the deciding vote on the legitimacy of Columbia’s graduate student union. Until then, Columbia University’s student union – and its student employees – hang in a limbo.

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