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The National Labor Relations Board ruled today that the University of
Chicago, in refusing since March to bargain with its graduate student union,
“engaged in unfair labor practices.”
The university had sought to overturn Columbia, an Obama-era NLRB decision that allowed graduate students at private
universities to organize. In October 2017, Provost Daniel Diermeier argued in
an email to students and faculty, “the NLRB has a long
history of recognizing that graduate assistants are foremost students, not
employees under federal labor law.”
A board majority that is likely amenable to reversing Columbia nonethelessrejected the University of Chicago’s argument today in a unanimous opinion. In its ruling, the NLRB faulted the
university for failing “to adduce at a hearing any newly discovered and
previously unavailable evidence” or to show “any special
circumstances that would require the board to reexamine” the earlier
In a footnote, Republican Chairman John Ring signaled that he’d be willing
to challenge Columbia in “a future appropriate proceeding” —
one that might stand a better chance of surviving an appeal to federal court.
Columbia University said today it would bargain with its graduate student union, ending a years-long standoff with labor organizers.
A framework agreement announced by the university “sets forth mutually agreed upon principles to guide negotiations toward collective bargaining agreements on wages, hours, and other working conditions for Columbia’s student research and teaching assistants and for our diverse postdoc community,” Lee Bollinger, the university president, said in a written statement.
Columbia refused to bargain with its graduate student union after a precedent-setting National Labor Relations Board decision in 2016, which found that student assistants working at private colleges are allowed to unionize. Early this year, Columbia administrators said they would seek review in federal appellate court.
The agreement announced today “includes substantive principles reflecting the respective interests of the parties,” Bollinger wrote. “For Columbia, chief among these interests is that any collectively bargained agreement will not infringe upon the integrity of the University’s academic decision making and that Columbia will retain the exclusive right to manage the institution consistent with our educational and research mission.”
Negotiations are scheduled to begin no later than Feb. 26.