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NLRB Office: Columbia Grad Union Vote Was Valid

March 7, 2017

A National Labor Relations Board office rejected Columbia University’s objections to a recent graduate employee union election Monday, recommending that United Auto Workers be certified as the students' collective bargaining representative. Columbia has challenged its graduate employees’ right to form a union at all, but also lodged specific complaints with the NLRB about the December election. Those included that UAW employees were too close to one of the polling sites on election day. The local NLRB office decided, however, that the mere presence of union agents within the vicinity of an election, absent evidence of coercion or other objectionable conduct, does not warrant throwing out the results.

The local office also found uncompelling Columbia’s claim that the election was invalid since voters did not have to show identification, in part because the university only presented evidence that four ballots may have been affected. Votes supported unionization by a much bigger margin, with 1,602 in favor and 623 against. Columbia has until later this month to file exceptions to the decision. The Columbia graduate student union, which includes teaching and research assistants, on Twitter called the decision an affirmation of its “historic election.” Graduate students at private institutions have long faced legal challenges in seeking collective bargaining, but a major national NLRB decision last year in favor of Columbia graduate students who hoped to organize paved the way for such unions.

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Colleen Flaherty

Colleen Flaherty, Reporter, covers faculty issues for Inside Higher Ed. Prior to joining the publication in 2012, Colleen was military editor at the Killeen Daily Herald, outside Fort Hood, Texas. Before that, she covered government and land use issues for the Greenwich Time and Hersam Acorn Newspapers in her home state of Connecticut. After graduating from McGill University in Montreal in 2005 with a degree in English literature, Colleen taught English and English as a second language in public schools in the Bronx, N.Y. She earned her M.S.Ed. from City University of New York Lehman College in 2008 as part of the New York City Teaching Fellows program. 

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