Share story

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia University said Tuesday it will not bargain with the graduate student teaching and research assistants who voted overwhelmingly over a year ago to unionize.

Columbia Provost John Coatsworth said the university will instead ask a federal appeals court to rule on whether student assistants are workers with the right to collective bargaining.

“We remain convinced that the relationship of graduate students to the faculty that instruct them must not be reduced to ordinary terms of employment,” Coatsworth said in a letter to the Columbia community. “It is a conviction that, in the end, made this admittedly difficult decision straightforward for us.”

Columbia graduate students voted 1,602 to 623 in December 2016 to join a union affiliated with the United Auto Workers. The vote came after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students at private universities had a right to unionize.

UAW regional director Julie Kushner said Columbia’s refusal to negotiate “shows total and continued disrespect for the democratic will of these workers.”

“These workers have made their choice clear over and over and will continue to do so, and the UAW will stand with these workers until they achieve the justice they deserve,” Kushner said.

Graduate students who voted for unionization said they hoped collective bargaining would give them more control over their employment and might lead to higher stipends and better benefits.

Olga Brudastova, a research assistant at Columbia’s civil engineering and engineering mechanics department, who was a leader of the union drive, called the decision not to bargain “a new low for Columbia.” She added, “More than a year after we voted by an overwhelming 72 percent for our union, Columbia manufactures its same old excuses and tries to gloss over the fact they are refusing to respect the law of the land that has now certified our vote.”