Our Position on the Unionization

Following a vote on the Plenary Meeting on October 16, 2018 (21 votes to approve, 8 to oppose, and 3 abstentions), we updated our official policy regarding the unionization of Columbia's Graduate Students Workers.

New Policy

The ASGC serves as a bridge between our constituents and the Columbia administration, specifically the GSAS administration. Historically we have been able to address many student concerns via our productive working relationship with the GSAS Office of the Dean. We do not, however, have the power to negotiate for more favorable working conditions through collective bargaining. Such a body does exist: the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW).

In December 2016, Columbia graduate workers voted 72% to 28% to form a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers Local 2110, which already represents a number of workers on campus. 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 with the GWC-UAW in clear contravention of democratic principles and existing law. The ASGC therefore retracts its neutrality policy and affirms its support for the GWC-UAW’s efforts to fulfill its democratic mandate to engage in collective bargaining on behalf of Columbia graduate workers.


Previous Statement

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.