Last week, at the inaugural bargaining session, we presented the Columbia administration with our bargaining goals, explaining how we can advance Columbia University’s academic mission by creating the conditions under which graduate workers at this university can flourish.

This past Wednesday, we sat down at the table, ready – as Proskauer lawyer Bernie Plum put it on February 25 – to roll up our sleeves and get down to the details. We had brought with us nearly a dozen, carefully prepared contract proposals to hand to our university administration counterparts… Only, there was no one there to receive them. The administration had declined to meet — informing us, less than 48 hours before the planned session, of “scheduling conflicts.” This after clearly stating, over the bargaining table on February 25, that their team was available to bargain at that time; and after we went to the effort of finding and booking an appropriate bargaining space (no small feat, given how many of our room reservation requests were denied). Rather than rolling up our sleeves and making progress towards a fair contract, we found ourselves across the table from a row of empty chairs.

While it is still early in the bargaining process – a process that GWC remains fully committed to – the first signs of a potentially worrying pattern are already visible. In attempting to find a space on main campus to bargain, bargaining committee members and our allies have found our requests consistently denied, often without reason. Additionally, despite giving the administration team every assurance that we would find appropriate bargaining space on main campus (an assurance we have followed through on in good faith), Columbia has persisted in only offering to bargain at times when the bargaining space at Studebaker (an HR building that is located on none of Columbia University’s campuses, and where the initial bargaining session took place) is available. Many of these proposed times fall out of the bargaining committee’s availability: large blocks of time during four days of the week which we presented to the administration’s team during the inaugural bargaining session.

The initial evidence seems to suggest that Columbia either doesn’t want to bargain on campus, or wants to slow down bargaining as much as it can.

We reiterate that GWC remains fully and enthusiastically committed to the bargaining process – a process we acknowledge will take time and plenty of “sleeve rolling.” Which is precisely why it is imperative that we bargain often and earnestly.

Among the many proposals the bargaining committee had prepared to hand to the administration and their lawyers were

  • Union recognition: the University formally recognizes GWC, with all the rights that entails
  • Past practices: the University can’t take away benefits we currently enjoy that aren’t explicitly included in the contract
  • Travel: no more waiting months and months to get reimbursed for your work-related travel!
  • Training: you know all those trainings you’re required to take? You should get paid for that – it’s work! – and they should actually help you do your job better
  • And many others

Many of these articles are foundational to a strong, fair contract, and we were excited to get the ball rolling on finding common ground with the administration where possible, and standing up for you, our fellow graduate workers, whenever necessary. But on March 6, the chairs on the other side of the table were empty.

Fun fact from the bargaining table: you know how “it takes two to tango?” Well, it turns out it takes two sides to bargain, too…