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George Hodan / CC 2.0

Columbia University has filed an objection to a National Labor Relations Board ruling that upheld a vote by Columbia graduate students to unionize.

According to the Columbia Spectator, this move begins a legal battle that “could last for years” as the administration attempts to block recognition of the union.

In August 2016 the NLRB ruled that all private university graduate students could be classified as employees and had the right to unionize. 

In December, Columbia graduate students voted 1,602 to 623 to formally unionize but immediately faced pushback from university administration, which claimed that “improper conduct” was exhibited during the vote and filed a formal legal objection. 

Ultimately, the regional NLRB rejected the claims and the university appealed to the national NLRB. 

In an interview with the Spectator, Columbia Provost John Coatsworth claimed that surveillance and incorrect voting process marred the union vote. He argued that the objections were not a delay tactic, a stance also taken by Columbia President Lee Bollinger.

Spectator also spoke with a former NLRB Chair, Wilma Liebman, who argued that filing exceptions is a common strategy by employers to delay bargaining.

The administration could still fight unionization if the NLRB rules against them. The school could refuse to bargain, which would force the union to file unfair labor practice charges against the university with the regional NLRB. A ruling in favor of the union by the regional NRLB could be further appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which could revisit the employee status of graduate student workers.

Penn’s graduate students have recently organized to garner support for forming a union, which Penn’s administration is also opposing.