Since our call to hear about your experiences as academic workers we continue to receive tremendously helpful emails from you all about how Columbia consistently fails to provide adequate working conditions. Your stories help us make contract proposals that directly address your concerns and provides a strong response to the objections made by Columbia and their union-busting lawyer at the bargaining table.
This session, we moved closer to a tentative agreement on our article proposal: Severability, which would be our first tentative agreement on a contract article! We also had a student worker discuss the consequences of having access to a medical leave policy that is only for students and not for academic workers. In her testimony, she described how managing an acute medical illness without a medical leave policy damaged her relationship with her supervisor and left her worried for days about whether she would have a job when she returned. Her testimony made it clear that there is in fact no process currently in place at the University that ensures that student assistants who urgently need to take leave can do so to take care of their health – instead, they must rely on getting ad-hoc approval from their supervisors. In response to the testimony, the Columbia team made the claim that our current Paid Leave proposal wouldn’t really prevent such situations from happening – but it would, of course, because it would make the University’s refusal to grant medical leave subject to filing a grievance. Presenting concerns like these at the bargaining table allows the university to see that the rights and protections we are proposing affect the lives of actual workers, and through our labor, the university itself. Please continue to send us emails about your grievances so that we can make it clear to Columbia’s bargaining team that we demand an end to unacceptable working conditions, and a working environment based on dignity and respect.
During this eighth bargaining session, we also resumed a conversation about the university’s proposal for a subcommittee of university designated “experts” and union representatives to discuss some of the health and safety concerns raised during Trevor Hull’s (Chemistry) testimony last week. Yash (Environmental Engineering) asked the university team to explain why a subcommittee would be necessary. We proposed an article that outlined basic health and safety protections for workers and we still had not discussed the details of the proposal. The university team then began a series of evasive claims to avoid substantively discussing the details of the proposal.
The first claim was that discussing the proposal at the bargaining table would take too long, then they claimed they just don’t know enough information to agree to our proposal (suggesting that the topic of Health and Safety was too technical and would have to be ‘dumbed down’ for non-experts on the matter). The next objection was particularly odd. When Angela (Communications) asked if the university team could simply identify sections where we agree, Columbia’s lawyer became flustered and said, “We’re not gonna advance the ball by sitting here and carefully drafting contract language. No.”
Huh? Are we all not here to advance a metaphorical ball towards an agreement by carefully drafting contract language? Eventually the university team begrudgingly agreed to actually read the proposal and “advance the ball” by carefully drafting a counterproposal on health and safety in a later meeting.
During this session we also made counter proposals on the formation of a Union Management Committee and worker rights regarding Training. We also asked the university’s team to revisit some older article proposals like Severability and Job Posting. The university proposed a No Strike, No Lockout article; a standard management article which forbids academic workers from engaging in strikes, slowdowns, or work stoppages while a contract is in effect. It also forbids the university from “locking out” or physically barring workers from entering the workplace.
After a record-breaking two-hour caucus, the university finally returned for the last hour of negotiations. We resumed the session with a testimonial (mentioned earlier) on Paid Leave for academic workers and Dan (Earth Science) presented our counterproposal. The university then responded to our article on Severability and said they are prepared to accept it as written; which may make this our first tentative agreement on an article for our contract. Hopefully many more to come soon!
However, the university rejected our Job Posting article proposal which establishes a central job posting website for open hire positions. In their response to the proposal, the university complained that they would have to hire a staff and create another bureaucratic structure to administer the website and post the jobs. Columbia’s lawyer also reiterated the university’s commitment to attempt to shrink our bargaining unit by thousands of workers. He argued that jobs like graders and course assistants would not make sense to put in an open hire, job posting system because it’s “not much work, not much earning”. Their team only agreed to reconsider the job posting website if it was only for doctoral students.
The university also rejected our Training counterproposal on the grounds that they do not believe the Union Management Committee should have a role in deciding what trainings should look like for academic workers. Their lawyer specifically said that it is “not the proper role of a union” to be at job trainings or orientations. Yet it is quite common to have a union introduction during job trainings. The university continues to attempt to limit the power of our union by arguing that work related issues are an “academic matter” while ignoring that we are academic workers.
Finally, we concluded the session with a discussion about scheduling bargaining sessions over the summer. We informed the university that we are waiting to hear from you, our unit. A referendum vote is currently underway on whether or not to amend the referendum from the last election in order to allow bargaining to occur during the summer. The link to the online vote was sent to your email on May 6th and will remain open until May 14th at 5PM. Your participation in this vote is crucial in helping set the future course for contract negotiations.
Our next bargaining session will be back on Morningside campus in Lerner Hall at the Broadway Room on May 13th, 1PM-5PM. Your presence during the session will be no less important than in the last few sessions as we prepare to propose our Nondiscrimination and Harassment article. Have you experienced instances of discrimination or harassment while working for the university? We would like to know. Please email the GWC bargaining committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.
GWC-UAW Bargaining Committee