A strike is a coordinated stoppage of work aimed at convincing an employer to meet employee demands. In our case, TAs, RAs, and others would stop our paid work doing grading, research, and teaching on campus in order to send a message to the administration to recognize our union and start bargaining. Our bargaining committee would only call a strike after a democratic vote authorizing them to call such a strike.
We would stop our work and also engage in organized picketing — protesting at various locations around the campuses in order to make our action visible and effective. Additionally, we could ask that other unionized workers who are able to refuse to work with the school; for example, delivery drivers might refuse to cross our picket lines to bring packages to campus.
The decision to participate in a strike is a big one. In the event of a strike that lasts more than seven days, all striking workers would be eligible to receive strike pay from the United Auto Workers (the national union we are affiliated with) of up to $200 per week for the duration of the strike. We could also raise money independently for those who would face extreme hardship in a strike (e.g. those with families).
We would hope that the administration would agree to our demands in order to avert a strike. However, if we do have to strike, the goal of would be to demonstrate how indispensable student workers are. If the administration were to remain intransigent a strike could go on for some time, but with a strategically timed strike we hope that time on the picket line would be kept to a minimum.
The law protects our right to strike. Since the 1970s, thousands and thousands of RAs and TAs across the US – including here at Columbia in 2004 – have engaged in lawful strike activity without being fired. Beyond these legal protections, mass participation is our best protection since it makes it difficult to single out anyone even if Columbia did contemplate such an extreme action.
You can stay informed by joining our mailing list here: https://columbiagradunion.org/#getinvolved. Additionally, e-mail us at columbiagradunion@gmail.com to reach out to a GWC organizer to talk more about how you can get involved.
You would not have legal or academic protection if you refuse to go to your own classes.
The law protects our right to strike and makes it illegal for Columbia to retaliate for protected activity. Thousands of RAs and TAs have gone on strike across the US and have avoided this problem. Again, mass participation is our best protection against Columbia even contemplating this kind of extreme action.
Administration’s anti-strike campaigns often target international students because their visa status makes them more vulnerable. You should know that international students have the same rights as US citizens to participate in union activity. It is illegal for Columbia to retaliate for protected activity. Thousands of international student workers across the United States have struck and been otherwise active in their unions for more than 40 years, including here at Columbia.
We would strive to educate students in advance of the strike so that they understand that it is growing out of Columbia’s three-year refusal to recognize our democratic rights. We would encourage them to contact the administration and resolve the strike before it even happens so their education is not disrupted. The impact of an actual strike depends on many factors: length of strike, time of the year, your duties, etc.
A partial strike consists of you doing part of your TA/RAship work and striking on the other half and would be unprotected by labor law. For example, holding off-campus sessions for your students during a strike period could be regarded as a partial strike of your TAship.
Work/research that is absolutely necessary for your dissertation progress is academic work that you may continue . We want to be sure that any action allows the maximum number of people to participate with maximum impact on Columbia. The overall goal here is to strike our paid work to pressure Columbia to bargain, not refuse to perform academic work. Conversely some Grad Workers will have to complete the bare minimum necessary to maintain their own research (e.g. tending to animals or live cultures) while refraining from other lab work.
Yes – we will schedule something so that we can learn from experienced strikers about how a strike can be most effective and maintain high participation levels.
We need you on the picket line! The bigger our picket line, the bigger the disruption. Having a whole department show up at the strike is important for visibility, and you can help get more publicity to the strike.
Strikes are more effective when there is large participation, but it is an individual choice to participate. Our union will not penalize members who do not participate in a strike.
You are not obligated to tell anyone about the strike, but you can and should talk to them. Ideally, we want them to tell the administration to bargain so that the strike can be avoided. You can read our talking points on how to talk to faculty here.
The decision by the National Labor Relations Board that granted our collective bargaining rights, defined members of our union as all undergraduate and graduate student employees performing instructional services and graduate employees performing research service. As stated in the NLRB decision these titles could include, but are not limited to: “All student employees who provide instructional services, including graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants (Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Preceptors, Course Assistants, Readers and Graders): All Graduate Research Assistants (including those compensated through Training Grants) and All Departmental Research Assistants employed by the Employer at all of its facilities, including Morningside Heights, Health Sciences, Lamont-Doherty and Nevis facilities.” In regards to Program Assistants. At the time of the hearing at the NLRB, in 2015, the evidence was that Program Assistants performed administrative duties and did not perform instructional services or work similar to the work performed by research assistants. If today program assistants are providing instructional services or work similar to research assistants, then the Union considers you to be included in the bargaining unit. Whether you are in the unit or not, you have the same rights as unit employees to strike in support of our demand that our vote be honored by the administration.
Graduate workers voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike. The 1832 to 136, or 93%, authorization vote included a clear majority of the 3,000-plus RAs and TAs and 230 more yes votes than in the original NLRB election in December 2016. In his email attempting to discourage participation in the strike, the Provost claimed there are 4,000 eligible RAs and TAs, despite the fact that Columbia has reported significantly lower numbers of RAs and TAs in at least three different official communications to the federal government. First, Columbia reported in the official NLRB hearings that 3,153 RAs and TAs were working during the Spring 2015 semester. Second, the voter list Columbia produced for the December 2016 NLRB election included 3,609 individuals, which was higher than the earlier number because the NLRB eligibility formula required the inclusion of 400-600 people who were not working at the time of the election but had worked sometime in the previous year. These official reports by Columbia are also consistent with the information GWC-UAW has accumulated through grassroots methods showing a little over 3,000 employees during a typical semester. Until Columbia fulfills its legal obligation – as part of recognizing the union as the bargaining representative – to provide GWC-UAW an accurate list of current employees, a reasonable person would be more likely to trust the numbers reported by Columbia to the federal government in official proceedings (which happens to be consistent with good-faith, grassroots information gathering by GWC-UAW) as opposed to numbers proffered by the Provost in a mass email clearly aimed at discouraging participation in the strike.
[This is an archived question. We voted 93% yes (1832 to 136) in April 2018.] For more than three years, the Columbia administration has repeatedly ignored majority support for GWC-UAW as our union.
  • In Fall 2014, a majority of RAs and TAs originally signed cards in favor of unionization.
  • In August 2016, the NLRB established the right to unionize for graduate workers at private universities, putting us on par with workers at public universities who had been unionized for decades.
  • In December 2016, we voted 1602 to 623 for GWC-UAW as our union.
  • In February 2017, over 2,000 RAs and TAs signed a petition calling on the administration to drop its objections to our election, respect our vote, and start bargaining
  • In Spring 2017, over 2,500 RAs and TAs filled out bargaining surveys to tell the bargaining committee what they want to see addressed in our union contract
  • In December 2017, a majority of RAs and TAs signed a petition calling on the administration to bargain so we can address and find real recourse for sexual harassment.
  • Also in December 2017, the National Labor Relations Board finally certified our election. By refusing to bargain, Columbia is now breaking the law.
Instead of respecting the democratic will of the majority, as administrators at NYU and The New School have done, the administration has continued to waste resources paying lawyers to fight our legal right to a union. The intransigence of our administration has gone on far too long. Having tried many alternatives for the last three years, a strike vote is a logical next step in our ongoing campaign to move the administration to stop the delays and start bargaining with our elected bargaining committee.
[This is an archived question. We voted 93% yes (1832 to 136) in April 2018.] Voting will take place by secret ballot. If ⅔ of the votes are in favor, it would authorize the bargaining committee to call a strike. Eligible voters would be Columbia graduate and undergraduate students who have signed a GWC-UAW authorization card and are currently employed by the university, previously employed by the university, or expect to be employed by the university in one of the categories outlined by the NLRB decision (i.e. graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Preceptors, Course Assistants, Readers, Graders, Graduate Research Assistants [including those on Training Grants], and All Departmental Research Assistants). If you meet the above criteria and have not signed up for the Union previously, you would be able to do so at the polls in order to vote.
[This is an archived question. We voted 93% yes (1832 to 136) in April 2018.] Not necessarily. A strike authorization vote authorizes the union bargaining committee to call a strike if they deem it necessary, but it does not mean we will strike right away. Typically, we would give some time for the university to agree to our demand (in this case, commit to start bargaining) before actually striking so the administration would have an opportunity to avert a strike and the disruption it would cause to campus activities and services.






While the vast majority of GWC-UAW organizers are volunteers, the union has hired a few student employees temporarily to work part-time on the campaign at certain points. Building our union requires a lot of resources, especially given the large number of research and teaching assistants at our university. One of the reasons we chose to work with the UAW originally was because of its commitment to utilize a small number of committed organizers from our bargaining unit as part-time staff when the work was heavy, in addition to UAW organizers who have experience in other higher education organizing and bargaining campaigns. If you are ever interested in working for the union, send us an email at columbiagradunion@gmail.com
Bargaining committees are elected by the members of the bargaining unit they represent, who also determine the size and composition of the committee. Most memberships balance a need for a committee that is manageable in size and still representative of discipline, job title, etc..

By way of example, the bargaining committee at UConn had six members, who came from Engineering, Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education. At the University of California, they had two committee members per campus.
First, and most importantly, RAs and TAs share many common interests. For example, health care, family benefits, pay increases, protection against discrimination and sexual harassment, time off for vacation or other reasons, tuition and fee waivers, timely payment for work performed, protection against last-minute loss of appointments, international student rights, and a fair grievance procedure affect RAs and TAs all across campus and are typically central issues in contract negotiations regardless of who is on the bargaining committee.

Second, RAs and TAs will get to vote democratically to approve not only the initial bargaining goals prior to negotiations but also the final contract negotiated by the committee, which encourages democratic accountability.  In the recent University of California postdoc contract campaign, the most recent UAW academic example, a majority of all 6,200 postdocs voted in favor of the bargaining committee’s initial demands, which were based on extensive surveys, and voted to accept the final contract.

In electing our bargaining committee, we plan to  follow the example of other graduate unions in the UAW that have tended to balance a need for a committee that is manageable in size and still representative of discipline, job title, etc.  At NYU and UConn, several meetings were held soon after official union recognition to work out the size of the bargaining committee.  At UConn, they ended up electing six committee members who came from Engineering, Sciences, Humanities, Social Sciences and Education, all the major disciplines on campus.  The contract they negotiated increased stipends; resulted in a new, and significantly improved, healthcare program; improved workload protections; reduced fees; included protections from discrimination; and, included provisions for job security.  When the final agreement was put to a vote, graduate assistants voted 99% in favor, with a majority of all those eligible voting yes.

We will do the same—soon after the election, we will hold meetings to determine the size and composition of the committee.  While we have examples from other universities, we will have to figure out what will work best at Columbia.
For our first contract, those union supporters working in the bargaining unit who have signed union authorization cards, would be eligible to vote in the ratification vote. At a ratification vote for a first contract it is customary to provide employees with the opportunity to sign up.
Local 2110 has union by-laws that lay out how the union is governed. Modifications to the bylaws can be made by membership vote. GWC-UAW as a bargaining unit can also develop its own unit bylaws to address issues that are specific to the unit.
To be a member of the union, you must have worked in the bargaining unit and paid dues. In a recent steward election, certain candidates who had not worked in union positions or ever paid dues, were deemed to be ineligible to run under the Local 2110 bylaws and the UAW constitution. These candidates have filed an appeal with the UAW (which they are entitled to do), and the appeal is being adjudicated. Ultimately, if either Local 2110 or the appealing candidates disagrees with the UAW’s decision, they can appeal it further to an outside Public Review Board, an independent body unique to the UAW, which will issue a binding decision.
Local 2110 is governed by a Joint Council composed of delegates from every workplace. The number of delegates each workplace has is based on the number of dues-paying members they have. If all 3,000 workers in GWC-UAW joined the union and paid dues, GWC would be entitled to 60 delegates to the Joint Council.
A member in the union at UC appealed the vote for numerous reasons, including that he thought the vote exceeded the Local Union’s authority under the democratic structure of the UAW Constitution. The UAW International Executive Board (IEB), and, subsequently, an independent review board unique to the UAW agreed that the vote exceeded the Local’s authority because positions on major political issues are set by the IEB, since it represents and has to balance the interests of hundreds of locals and 400,000 individual members across the US, Canada and Puerto Rico. In other words, the vote in California has no effect on the national position of the UAW. A little over 2,000 members, out of 400,000, have voted to support BDS.
Much of the appeal of the BDS vote in California revolved around interpretation of the Ethical Practices Code (EPC), a key component of the UAW Constitution that codifies the Union’s intent to promote internal democracy while also attempting to balance the interests of ALL members of the Union.  The key passage is the following.  “Each member shall be entitled to a full share in Union self-government. Each member shall have full freedom of speech and the right to participate in the democratic decisions of the Union. Subject to reasonable rules and regulations, each member shall have the right to run for office, to nominate and to vote in free, fair and honest elections. In a democratic union, as in a democratic society, every member has certain rights but s/he also must accept certain corresponding obligations. Each member shall have the right freely to criticize the policies and personalities of Union officials; however, this does not include the right to undermine the Union as an institution; to vilify other members of the Union and its elected officials or to carry on activities with complete disregard of the rights of other members and the interests of the Union; to subvert the Union in collective bargaining or to advocate or engage in dual unionism.”

The UAW definition of democracy also encompasses a commitment, in Article 2 of the Constitution, to further “the improvement of general economic and social conditions in the United States of America, Canada, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and generally in the nations of the world.”

The UAW is unique in the US labor movement in that it allows appeals like the one from the member in California to go to the independent PRB, so that a neutral party decides whether the UAW has followed its own democratic procedures.
Like in any democratic organization, disagreements sometimes happen within the UAW.  In the late 1990s, there were some internal disputes at UMass and at UC Santa Barbara.  Fortunately, the UAW has democratic structures in place to address such disagreements and to ensure the rights of all members.  In 2004, as the anti-union campaign raised questions about these events in the lead-up to a unionization vote at the University of Washington, members from UMass and UCSB addressed the situation.  You can read their comments below.

February 29, 2004

“I am a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and the President of UAW Local 2322, the union that represents graduate teaching and research assistants at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Our union was recognized in 1991 and has bargained six contracts since that time. We have been able to negotiate dramatic improvements for our members on wages, healthcare, childcare, and other issues.

As you move closer to your election you may hear negative things about the UAW at UMass.

There were problems in the local in the past. People in the local couldn’t resolve their disputes, and some democratic practices were not being followed. But the UAW, the larger organization that we are part of, didn’t let that situation disintegrate. At the request of members of our local, a UAW staff member assisted us in getting things back on track by allowing our democratically elected leadership to take charge. At the time I was skeptical of the role that the UAW staff might play, but I have to say that it was the best thing for the local. The future of Local 2322 is bright. We have had a number of great accomplishments recently – a new contract and organizing victories for more campus workers. I want to encourage you to vote yes in your election and look forward to welcoming you into the UAW.”

James A.W. Shaw
President Local 2322 United Auto Workers
Northampton, MA

February 28, 2004

“We are the current elected UC Santa Barbara leadership of UAW Local 2865. We urge the ASEs at University of Washington to vote yes for GSEAC/UAW in your upcoming election. We are proud to be members of the UAW.

Like most democratic organizations, we have had some internal disagreements. In the late 1990’s a small group at our campus disagreed over bargaining goals and strategies. The group, including some of the elected bargaining team members, wanted to have the right to strike over grievances, in addition to the remedy of binding arbitration, in the contract. This was not a position supported by the Santa Barbara membership in bargaining surveys or organizing contacts, nor by the rest of the elected bargaining teams and members at UC’s seven other campuses. The Santa Barbara bargaining team members resigned over this disagreement. The contract was subsequently ratified by all UC campuses, including Santa Barbara. Since then, we and elected leadership at the other seven UC campuses have negotiated a second contract, also ratified by members at all campuses.”

Brian Campbell, UCSB Campus Unit Chair, UAW Local 2865, Geological Sciences
Nina Kilham, UCSB Campus Recording Secretary, UAW Local 2865, Geography
Susie Keller, UCSB Campus Head Steward, UAW Local 2865, English


The National Labor Relations Board has decided that undergraduate teaching assistants are included. If you want to sign up, contact us at columbiagradunion@gmail.com.
TA and and RA working conditions are undergraduate learning conditions! At a large research university like Columbia, TAs and RAs take on a significant portion of the teaching and grading responsibilities for undergraduate instruction. They conduct cutting-edge research as part of world-renowned research labs whose presence at Columbia also enhances the quality of undergraduate education. In order to maintain these standards of excellence it is crucial for Columbia undergrads to recognize TA and RA labor and support these workers’ right to negotiate a fair contract with the University through collective bargaining, so our TAs and RAs have the time, energy, and resources to devote to our undergraduate experience.
Well-endowed universities like Columbia don’t need to raise tuition or lower financial aid to accommodate fair working conditions. Through fundraising and investments, Columbia’s endowment has grown to over $8 billion. Columbia has the money to fairly compensate the people who keep it running without adversely affecting other student populations. If you are a student worker, having a union allows you to negotiate your working conditions directly with Columbia. Having a union on campus also gives all students a greater voice in issues that will positively affect everyone at the university (for example, addressing problems with payroll and advocating against tuition increases across the board).

There has been no research showing that student unions raise the price of tuition. At institutions such as the University of Washington and the University of California, graduate worker unions have been instrumental in helping to campaign against tuition increases.