Columbia University teaching assistants launch week-long strike
Daniel de Vries
26 April 2018
Three thousand graduate student workers at Columbia University in New York City went out on strike Tuesday, building on the growing wave of education workers’ struggles taking place nationally and internationally this year.
Like their counterparts in West Virginia, Oklahoma and elsewhere, striking teaching and research assistants at the elite private university are battling over low wages and inadequate healthcare coverage, along with other workplace and social issues.
The immediate trigger for the walkout was the Columbia administration’s refusal to bargain with the recently certified union, Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers (GWC-UAW) Local 2110. The university refuses to recognize student workers as employees, claiming their status as students precludes them from also being employees.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled to the contrary in 2016 in its most recent determination. However, the NLRB has reversed itself repeatedly depending on its political makeup, with Democratic administrations authorizing unionization and Republicans ruling against it. Columbia administrators again this year refused to bargain, emboldened by the Trump administration’s likely hostile stance towards unionization.
Columbia University has followed the broader trend within higher education of relying upon highly exploited, part-time labor for a growing share of university work. Average earnings for teaching assistants, under $23,000 a year, places them below New York City’s official poverty threshold for an individual. New York City’s metric is more accurate than federal thresholds in that it considers the higher cost of…