Dear Graduate Workers of Columbia,
Our bargaining session yesterday coincided with a historic occasion for GWC: exactly 17 years ago, Columbia RAs and TAs voted to unionize in a 2002 NLRB election — but due to Columbia’s collaboration with the George Bush majority on the labor board that led to the Brown decision, the ballots were never counted. We felt the weight of that history as we proudly passed our proposals across the table.
We knew then what we know now: in order to engage and succeed in our academic pursuits, we rely on fair and predictable pay, benefits, and workplace protections. Our work sustains and supports us, and the workplace rights we negotiate in our first contract will enhance our ability to engage in quality research and teaching. A fair and strong contract must recognize and address our variegated needs as student assistants, juggling different roles and responsibilities at once.
This is the main objective of our bargaining agenda.
In all, we presented our first batch of 14 proposals that ranged topics from Appointment Notification and Job Description to Training and Travel. You can read short summaries of the proposals below. These proposals form the base of our contract, and we’ll continue to build upon them in our campaign for a strong contract that preserves what we love about our work and improves the problematic parts.
Unsurprisingly, Columbia opened its portion of the session with proposals that emphasized its academic prerogatives, attempting to frame strict limits around what we could bargain over. None of this was surprising, but they went to great length to explain, and attempt to codify in initial proposals, their right to determine the boundaries between our work and our academics.
We also continued bargaining over locations for the next bargaining sessions. The following dates have been confirmed so far:
- Friday, April 5, 9am-1pm
- Tuesday, April 9, 9am-1pm
- Thursday, April 18, 9am-2pm
- Wednesday, May 1, 2pm-6pm
- Monday, May 6, 1pm-5pm
- Monday, May 13, 1pm-5pm
- Friday, May 17, 9am-2pm
We recognize that the fight for a strong, fair contract will be fought both inside and outside the bargaining room. Still, as Columbia’s chief negotiator said himself, our rights as workers will be decided at the bargaining table. We hope to see you there on April 5th!
GWC-UAW Local 2110 Bargaining Committee
To start off the session, we proposed that the University formally recognize GWC, with all the rights that entails.
The University can’t take away benefits we currently enjoy that aren’t explicitly mentioned in the contract.
If any part of the contract is found to be illegal, the rest of the contract will remain in force and the University will meet with GWC to bargain a new provision.
If the university ever sells itself or somehow transfers its parts to another entity, our contract would still hold for unit members affected.
The university cannot subcontract work typically done by student assistants to an outside firm. This has happened at the University of Texas, when the work of graders was outsourced to an outside (cheaper) grading company.
Union-management committees are normally formed during bargaining, and their roles are determined through the other contract articles settled with the employer. This committee allows for the proper functioning of a unionized workplace, and its establishment and roles are referenced in other proposals (for example, in ‘Training’ below).
This proposal covers conditions of union membership, including dues payments and initiation fees. It also includes a section about VCAP (Voluntary Community Action program), a voluntary payroll deduction program managed by the union.
Employee Assistance Program
This article would guarantee us access to the services provided to faculty, staff, and postdoctoral workers through the Employee Assistance Program — including legal and financial assistance.
Appointment Notification and Job description
We should receive timely notifications of our appointments and term-by-term job descriptions with clear job expectations. Moreover, we aim to ensure student assistants will be guaranteed appointments for the specified appointment duration.This includes seven years of guaranteed appointments for doctoral student assistants and at least 1 year of guaranteed appointments for all other assistants. This will enable us to focus on producing high quality academic work, along with teaching and research duties, without having to worry about our appointments being suddenly cut.
Job security is essential to maintaining the balance of our lives. Without it, we can’t reasonably plan our lives both within and outside of the university. In this proposal, we simply ask the university to honor the terms and benefits of our appointments for the duration that is specified.
We’re asking for transparency in job postings — including a centralized posting site maintained by the university, so student assistants and those who seek to become student assistants can find open positions more easily.
Access to employment files gives student assistants the ability to further our careers by making sure that the information about our employment at Columbia is accurate and reflects our accomplishments. This proposal includes the right to request correction of inaccuracies and the right to contest information that may be incorrect.
As workers, we should be properly trained for the parts of our jobs that require specific skills or knowledge. These trainings are part of our work, and the time we spend on them should be paid! We’re also asking for a right to weigh in on the content of these trainings through the union-management committee (mentioned above).
We’re asking to be advanced for all work-related travel expenses and per diems, instead of paying out-of-pocket and waiting for reimbursements (if they are available at all). We’re also requesting the continuation of travel accident insurance in our contract.