Columbia University Alleges Coercion in Union Vote

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By Jaclyn Diaz

Columbia University is alleging union leaders interfered with fair election proceedings during a vote by its graduate assistants to form a union, NLRB documents show.

The university, in a Dec. 16 objection to the election results, cites multiple occasions where union leaders might have prevented a fair outcome during the two-day election. The objection alleges coercion by union leaders, the surveillance of voters by union supporters and confusing voter ID regulations that left many eligible voters out in the cold.

The vote, conducted Dec. 7 and 8, was 1,602 to 623 in favor of representation by the United Auto Workers. Approximately 3,500 people were eligible to vote in the election, according to the UAW.

The effort to unionize at Columbia began several years ago and culminated in August when the National Labor Relations Board ruled graduate research and teaching assistants can be considered employees and are eligible to form a union. The decision paved the way for organizing at colleges across the country.

Columbia opposed the unionization effort throughout the process. It argued graduate assistants are primarily students and therefore ineligible to form a union under federal labor law. The university also said choosing a union would have a negative effect on the relationship between the school and its graduate students.

The objection is part of the NLRB’s “established procedure for determining whether the conduct of the election was appropriate,” the university told Bloomberg BNA Dec. 19. But union leaders called the allegations baseless.

“This is nothing more than a delaying tactic,” Julie Kushner, the UAW Region 9A director, told Bloomberg BNA. “We hope that the labor board will see these objections for what they are: frivolous claims. We hope they will move quickly to dismiss them.”

The union plans to file a response to the objection, Kushner said.

Union Denies Coercion

Columbia claims a majority of the eligible voters were forced to pass UAW organizers and supporters on their way to cast ballots. Union supporters also allegedly set up a camera on the front steps of the campus polling place and handed out stickers promoting the organization. The union leaders spoke to voters and improperly coerced many of them while standing less than 100 feet from the building, the university alleged.

“If they want to make those claims they are going to have to produce witnesses, and I can’t believe they will find any,” Kushner said. “There was no effort to interfere with voters. There was no one from the union staff that engaged in a coercive manner.”

Voter ID issues also prevented many eligible voters from casting their ballots, the university said. The NLRB, Columbia and union officials in November agreed voters must use Columbia-issued IDs or government IDs to cast ballots. Less than 24 hours before the election, the NLRB reversed that decision and said no ID was required to vote. This confused voters, and in at least one case, an eligible voter arrived at a polling place to find his name had been checked off as having voted in that location, the university said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jaclyn Diaz in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at; Terence Hyland at; Christopher Opfer at

For More Information

The university's statement of objections is at

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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