Strike Authorization Vote
Frequently Asked Questions
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Why take a strike vote?
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.
What is a strike?
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.
How does the strike vote work?
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.
If we vote yes, will we strike immediately?
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.
What happens if we do 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.
I support unionization, but I can’t afford to stop working. What can I do?
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).
How long could a strike last?
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.
Could I be fired for joining a strike?
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.
I want to help. What can I do?
You can stay informed by joining our mailing list here: https://columbiagradunion.org/#getinvolved. Additionally, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org to reach out to a GWC organizer to talk more about how you can get involved.
Do we go to the classes we are students in while on strike?
You would not have legal or academic protection if you refuse to go to your own classes.
Are departments allowed to refuse to hire me in the future if I strike?
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.
What if I’m an international student?
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.
What will happen to my students?
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.
What is a partial strike?
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.
What if I’m a RA?
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.
Will there be a strike training?
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.
What if my striking isn’t noticeable?
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.
If there is a strike, and I am unable to strike, will there be a penalty?
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.
What do I say to my advisor or professor?
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.
I heard from my dean that my job isn’t in the union?
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.
I heard the Provost question whether a majority of RAs and TAs participated in the strike vote. What are the actual numbers?
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.