Our next bargaining session on May 1, 2-6pm in Broadway Room (2W), Lerner Center, will be particularly important as we make progress towards a strong first contract. Not only will we be celebrating International Workers Day, the Bargaining Committee will be proposing a crucial contract article: Grievance and Arbitration. This article is important because it establishes the mechanism that makes the rest of the contract enforceable.

It is imperative that we fight hard for a strong contract that includes a robust grievance procedure, further explained below, and we need your help to do it! How can you help?

  • Get pumped for the bargaining session by attending the International Workers Day rally sponsored by Student-Worker Solidarity(SWS) the hour before (1-2pm on Low steps!)
  • Join us at the table! This bargaining session is the first one taking place on Morningside campus. Energize our bargaining committee, witness first-hand the administration’s lack of concern for its own employees, and contribute to the session taking place from 2-6pm in Broadway Room (2W), Lerner Center! You’re welcome to join late or leave early, as your schedule allows.
  • Share your stories with us! What has made it hard for you to succeed as a student worker at Columbia? Understanding your experiences will help the Bargaining Committee fight for and prioritize protections and benefits in our first contract that matter to you. Send us an email at gwc.bargaining@gmail.com.
  • Talk to your friends! Keeping each other informed throughout the bargaining process and talking about what a strong contract means to each of us will help keep our bargaining campaign strong.

Union contracts typically include a grievance procedure, which provides due process to an individual student worker — or the union as whole — if the administration isn’t adhering to the contract. Though many grievances are resolved quickly and informally, most contracts allow for unresolved grievances to be taken to an outside neutral arbitrator whose decision is legally binding. This outside authority forces the administration to take adherence to the contract seriously.

For example, if the Wages article of our contract stipulates that the administration must pay us on time, student workers will finally be able to obtain relief from an arbitrator if they are paid weeks or months late. If the Health and Safety article of the contract protects RAs from retaliation, they will be empowered to flag safety concerns in their lab — knowing the contract, and its grievance procedure, will back them up. For more, check out examples from the University of Washington grad worker union here.

This is a more detailed description of what the Bargaining Committee plans to propose on Wednesday:

An overview of Grievance and Arbitration:

The grievance procedure gives bite to the rest of the contract by making it enforceable. If a member of the union feels a provision of the contract is being violated or improperly implemented, they can file a grievance (a formal complaint). As part of this process, the union helps the SA or group of SAs identify the violation and describe a preferred remedy. The university, meanwhile, has multiple opportunities to respond to the complaint.

When both sides reach a mutually-agreeable resolution, the grievance concludes. If a resolution with which the SA is comfortable is not reached, the grievance is brought to a higher-level university authority, giving the university another opportunity to provide the grievant with an acceptable remedy.

If all attempts at mediation between the union and the university fail, the union can submit the complaint to a neutral arbitrator who will interpret our contract to make a final, legally binding decision. That the final decision is made by a neutral arbitrator is critical, because unlike with current university procedures, a neutral arbitrator is not motivated to protect the interests of the university but rather to make a fair decision that faithfully interprets the contract. This is especially important in grieving cases like sexual harassment and discrimination or unjust dismissal.

In summary, if a bargaining unit member feels that protections provided for in the contract are being denied, the grievance and arbitration procedure allows them to point to specific clauses and provisions of the contract and insist on a remedy. Whether the process reaches arbitration or not, the administration knows that it must ultimately defend its actions before a neutral arbitrator with the power to impose remedies on the university. As a result, the administration will take the grievance process – and hence the contract – seriously.