In a victory for Columbia graduate students pushing to form a union, the highest arm of the National Labor Relations Board announced Wednesday that it will review their petition to unionize.
The Graduate Workers of Columbia, a group of graduate teaching and research assistants, first petitioned to gain recognition as a union one year ago. The NLRB’s decision brings GWC one step closer to its goal.
GWC filed a request in November for the NLRB in Washington to review its petition after Karen Fernbach, the regional director of the NLRB, dismissed GWC’s petition for the second time, citing precedent. Fernbach had previously dismissed the petition in February, but the national level of the NLRB reinstated it and called upon her to hold hearings to examine the role of graduate students at Columbia.
The NLRB’s highest level in Washington—referred to as the Board—is a five person governing body that has the power to overturn the 2004 Brown University precedent, which prevents graduate students from unionizing at private universities. The current Board, appointed by President Barack Obama, is expected to be more liberal than the 2004 Board that set the Brown precedent, which was appointed by President George W. Bush.
“While not wholly unexpected, this is a critical step in on our push to have Brown overturned and be able to collectively bargain here at Columbia,” Paul Katz, an organizer for GWC said.
In its decision published Wednesday, the Board said that it will next establish a schedule for both parties—Columbia and GWC—to file their briefs. If the Board rules in GWC’s favor, an election will be held for graduate teaching and research assistants to vote on whether they should unionize. Katz said that a favorable ruling could put GWC on track for an election as early as this coming semester.
A University spokesperson declined to comment.