Because what graduate students really need to do are protesting, wallowing in grievances, and paying more fees!

Seeking greater rights and recognition for their work as research and teaching assistants, graduate student workers at Columbia are organizing to become a union.

More than 1,700 student workers have signed cards supporting the effort since September. If successful, Columbia will become the second private university in the U.S. to have unionized graduate workers after students at NYU formed a union last fall.

Organizers made a visible demonstration of their efforts on Friday afternoon, when more than 100 graduate students marched from Butler Library to Low Library carrying banners from their academic departments and chanting, “Who are we? The union.”

A smaller group entered Low Library to hand-deliver a letter to administrators asking the University to recognize the union, the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers—named so because the students’ union is being formed as a subsidiary of UAW Local 2110, which represents full-time clerical workers at Barnard, Columbia, and Teachers College.

In the letter addressed to University President Lee Bollinger, GWC-UAW said students lacked job and wage security, citing issues like unpredictable funding, late paychecks, rent increases, poor medical coverage, and a lack of transparency in administrative policies.

“The security we will enjoy when we are able to negotiate the terms of our employment will allow us to take greater pride in the work we do for the university and ensure the integrity of our own education and research,” the letter said. “Collective bargaining will make us full members of the academic community and make Columbia University a stronger and more democratic institution.”

If Columbia chooses to recognize union, the students will become part of UAW Local 2110. If the University does not recognize them, organizers said they will file a petition seeking certification through the National Labor Relations Board.

A University spokesperson said on Friday that he was checking to confirm receipt of the letter and declined to comment on the unionization effort.