Our Position on the Unionization
Following a vote on the Plenary Meeting on November 16, 2021 (17 votes to approve, 2 to oppose, and 4 abstentions), we updated our official policy regarding the unionization of the Students Workers of Columbia.
The ASGC serves as a bridge between our constituents and the GSAS administration. Historically we have been able to address many student concerns via our working relationship with the GSAS Office of the Dean. We do not, however, have the power to systematically negotiate for more favorable working conditions through collective bargaining. Such a body does exist: the Student Workers of Columbia (SWC-UAW).
In December 2016, Columbia graduate workers voted 72% to 28% to form a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers Local 2110, which represents all TAs and RAs, including master’s students and undergraduates. This vote was conducted after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)’s August 2016 decision to restore the right to collective bargaining for research and teaching assistants at private universities. The NLRB certified that vote in December 2017, recognizing the GWC-UAW as the exclusive collective-bargaining unit for Columbia graduate workers. Since then, the university has refused to bargain in good faith with the GWC-UAW. The ASGC retracted its neutrality policy in 2018 and affirmed its support for the GWC-UAW’s efforts to fulfill its democratic mandate to engage in collective bargaining on behalf of Columbia graduate workers.
In July 2020, the Union went through a name change in order to better reflect the inclusion of undergraduate student workers. The Union now bargains for all Columbia student workers (regardless of their school affiliation), and they are now known as the Student Workers of Columbia. ASGC reaffirms its support for the SWC-UAW to collectively bargain on the behalf of Columbia student workers.
As of the plenary vote on October 16th 2018, ASGC retracted its prior position of neutrality on the matter of unionization, and affirmed its support for Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW) as the body legally empowered to negotiate more favorable working conditions through collective bargaining.
ASGC maintains a good working relationship with the Union, just as it does with the Office of the Dean. The External Representative to the Union serves as a conduit between the Council and the Union, and keeps the plenary abreast of all relevant developments on a monthly basis. The Council is committed to serving and representing all its constituents equitably, regardless of their affiliation with or support for the Union.
While the two bodies share a number of concerns, GWC-UAW and ASGC provide different kinds of support to their members and constituents. Notably, long-term policy changes regarding pay, benefits, working conditions, and workplace arbitration for the University-wide bargaining unit of student workers are all in the purview of the Union. At the moment, the University is generally unwilling to consider changing policies on matters that are part of ongoing collective bargaining in coordination with other student bodies.
However, ASGC is the only body able to address academic matters and GSAS-specific concerns for all GSAS students, including those who do not hold a work appointment with the University. ASGC is also able to respond expediently to ongoing concerns raised by individual students and smaller groups, and help facilitate solutions in cooperation with the Office of the Dean.
The Arts and Sciences Graduate Council is a body of graduate students dedicated to serving and representing the concerns of various departments and programs housed within Columbia's many graduate schools. We are committed to improving the quality of life for Columbia graduate students by organizing social and cultural events for graduate students and providing funding for student-led academic and cultural initiatives. We are pleased to have a warm working relationship with GSAS Dean Carlos Alonso and his office, with whom we meet regularly to voice issues that come to our attention. We are happy to serve as a conduit for graduate student concerns, but the advisory capacity in which we operate is entirely at the goodwill of the administrators with whom we work. We can offer suggestions, but have no power to collectively bargain. Moreover, we do not have regular contact with any of the other deans or with any members higher up in the university's administration. Contrary to the information on the Provost's website concerning unionization, we have only met with the Provost's office once in our entire history. Unlike the advisory councils at many of our peer institutions, we have never been granted a meeting with the President's office.
Given our particular institutional role and the type of services we offer graduate students of all stripes, we reject the notion that ASGC would be made redundant by the election of a union representing graduate workers at Columbia. The NLRB ruling determines that there is no contradiction in being both a student and a worker, and we represent all GSAS students. The fact that some of the students we represent are also workers is not our concern, and does not alter our relationship to them. Should Columbia's Graduate Student Workers vote to join GWC-UAW 2110, the Executive Board of ASGC would continue our work alongside theirs in order to best serve all of Columbia's diverse graduate population, just as graduate student government bodies work with their union counterparts at universities all across the country.
We want to confirm our position of neutrality inasmuch as we are a group that functions as a bridge between our constituents and the Columbia administration, specifically the GSAS administration, a position we have maintained since September 7, 2016. We would like to remind the Columbia community that ASGC is composed of graduate students (PhD and Master’s students), each of whom has their own opinions on the subject of the union and the administration's decision not to bargain; as such, it is inappropriate for us to be positioned as complicit with the administration's position when we were not only not privy to discussions or decisions but also have declared and maintained our role as a neutral conduit for graduate student concerns over the past 16 months.