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Columbia Students First to Unionize Following NLRB Ruling

By Leah S. Yared, Crimson Staff Writer

An overwhelming majority of Columbia’s graduate and undergraduate teaching and research assistants voted in favor of forming a union, making students at Columbia the first to successfully unionize at a private university following August’s National Labor Relations Board ruling.

Eligible Columbia students voted 1,602 to 623 in favor of unionization, according to the Facebook page of the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers. Per usual procedure, the National Labor Relations Board began the count quickly following the Dec. 7 and 8 election. Though there were some challenged ballots at Columbia—votes in which the eligibility of the voter was unclear—they did not delay the count as they have at Harvard, according to the Columbia Daily Spectator.

Harvard students voted Nov. 16 and 17, weeks before students at Columbia headed to voting booths, in the first union election since the August decision, which ruled that private universities must recognize graduate student unions. But ballot boxes have remained sealed since the election, as University officials and graduate student organizers work through an estimated nearly 1,000 challenge ballots.

Columbia will be the second-ever private university, after New York University, to have an authorized student union on campus. Columbia’s student union, the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers, will be the first academic union at a private university to include undergraduates. Union efforts at both Columbia and Harvard are affiliated with the UAW.

Graduate student organizers at Harvard celebrated Columbia’s vote as they wait to find out whether Harvard voters will also approve unionization.

Union organizer and Harvard Ph.D. student Sam Klug said he is “ecstatic” that the vote came down in the union’s favor by “an overwhelming margin.” Klug was an undergraduate at Columbia.

“Their petition to the NLRB made this possible for all of us, and I’m looking forward to joining them as a fellow member of the UAW to push this national movement in higher education forward once our votes are counted,” Klug said.

The count process at Harvard will begin Dec. 19 if there is enough time to finish the count that day, and if not, ballots will be counted on Dec. 22.

“Everyone’s certainly anxious to find out the results, but because of the larger number of challenge ballots in our election, we felt it was appropriate to resolve as many of these ballots as possible to ensure a fair process,” Klug said.

—Staff writer Leah S. Yared can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Leah_Yared.

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