"August 2, 2017
To the Committee Members of The Future of Voting: Accessible, Reliable, Verifiable
We write to express concern over the appointment of Columbia University President Lee
Bollinger as a co-chair of your committee. We see a potential conflict between Bollinger’s
efforts to dismiss a recent democratic vote by graduate employees in favor of unionization and
his leading a committee focused on ensuring the integrity of free and fair elections.
As Bollinger himself stated in the University press release announcing his appointment as a cochair
of your committee: "Nothing is more essential to a functioning democracy than the trust
citizens have in casting their ballots.” Yet, right on his own campus, Bollinger has undermined
that trust by refusing to respect the validity of an overwhelmingly clear National Labor Relations
Board (NLRB)-supervised unionization vote, in which 72 percent of research and teaching
assistants voted in favor of unionization with a margin of nearly 1,000 votes.
After President Bollinger’s administration filed objections attempting to nullify the results of the
election, an even stronger majority of RAs and TAs signed a public letter urging him to drop the
objections and start bargaining, dispelling any possible doubts as to the will of the majority.
Since then, a growing chorus has added support for the democratic legitimacy of the
overwhelming vote in December.
• 168 Columbia faculty sent an open letter urging Bollinger to start bargaining, saying the
objections “are not simply frivolous; they are insulting to the Teaching and Research
Assistants who voted...”
• More than 30,000 community allies added their names to the petition from student
assistants urging Bollinger to drop the objections and start bargaining.
• The regional NLRB recommended rejecting the University’s objections “in their
entirety,” as Columbia “has failed to demonstrate that any alleged objectionable conduct
occurred which could have affected the results of this election, in which the Petitioner
[GWC-UAW] prevailed by more than 900 votes.”
• The Columbia Daily Spectator Editorial Board asserted that, regardless of one’s position
on unionization, honoring the vote "has become a matter of democratic principle.”
But Bollinger has continued to ignore these increasing calls to respect the democratic process at
Columbia, and refuses to bargain with graduate workers through their union.
We understand you received a similar message recently from Columbia research and teaching
assistants. As fellow policy stakeholders, representing organizations and members who are
dedicated to the strengthening and protection of our democracy’s voting rights, we applaud the
great work of the National Academies, as well as your committee’s timely and crucially
important attention to the mechanisms of democratic choice. As you move forward on this
project, we respectfully ask that you join us and encourage President Bollinger to stop ignoring
the clear democratic mandate for the union at Columbia, to respect the election results, and to
start negotiations for a contract.
Wendy Fields, Executive Director, Democracy Initiative
Heather McGhee, President, Demos
Karen Scharff, Executive Director, Citizen Action of New York
Annie Leonard, Executive Director, Green Peace
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club
Tefere Gebre, Executive Vice President, AFL-CIO
Dan Cantor, National Director, Working Families Party
Anna Galland, Executive Director, MoveOn.org
Breana Ross, President, US Student Association
Aija Nemer-Aanerud, Director, Student Action
LeeAnn Hall, Co-Director, People's Action
Emma Greenman, Director of Voting Rights and Democracy at the Center for Popular
James and the Twenty-Seven Bicycles
10 years ago