NAICU Washington Update

NLRB Rules on Unionization of Graduate Assistants at Columbia

March 10, 2017

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Regional Director recently ruled that complaints made by Columbia University regarding the way voting was conducted were not sufficient to overturn election results showing that graduate assistants had voted to unionize. The next step in the process would be certification of the union for collective bargaining.  However, Columbia continues to challenge the original NLRB decision that graduate teaching and research assistants have a legal right to unionize. 

The ruling is a culmination of several months of legal arguments that began last August.  At that time, the NLRB, in a case involving a proposed union for graduate assistants at Columbia University, reversed its previous rulings, and stated that graduate assistants were employees, and therefore eligible to unionize.  At Columbia, an election was ordered and voting took place in December.   Preliminary results of that election showed that the union had won.

In another development involving graduate assistant unions, graduate students at Duke University have withdrawn their petition to form a union.  The preliminary count of ballots from the recent election showed the union losing by almost 300 votes, but about 500 ballots had been challenged and had not yet been counted.

President Trump is expected to fill the two current vacancies on the Board, which will then have to be confirmed by the Senate. When those vacancies are filled, the Board may again reverse course on the question of whether graduate assistants are employees eligible to unionize under the National Labor Relations Act.

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