Our first session of the summer involved substantial back-and-forth with Columbia’s bargaining team over our Non-Discrimination and Harassment proposal, which aims to establish stronger protections and recourse for workers who experience sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.
We also signed our first tentative agreements on two contract articles, Severability and Union-Management Committee – hopefully more to come! We have a lot of bargaining to do before we win our contract. On that note: We presented counter-proposals on Intellectual Property, Holidays, Vacation, Travel, and Non-Discrimination and Harassment; and we received Columbia’s counters to our Holidays and Non-Discrimination proposals.
We started out the session with moving testimony from a graduate worker who described an experience of sexual assault and harassment. The testimony made apparent the challenges faced by survivors under Columbia’s existing systems without clear access to union representation. Despite expressions of concern after hearing this testimony, Columbia administrators suggested that the prevailing problem with sexual harassment on campus was our own unfamiliarity with the University’s existing policy and of resistance to engaging with the reporting process. We explained that our proposal was developed specifically in the interest of survivors and to make them more comfortable with the reporting process.
Our bargaining committee was then subjected to an impressive amount of “mansplaining” as Columbia’s lawyer described how in his experience, going to a neutral arbitrator would not result in better treatment for survivors of sexual assault, at one point even claiming “We don’t believe there’s that many survivors – in this room.” Columbia’s team repeatedly said that they did not want neutral arbitration and that they preferred `comprehensive investigation’ by University ‘experts’. Comprehensive investigation which, in the event that it actually occurs, represents the University’s interests and not those of its workers.
Columbia clearly desires unilateral control over sexual harassment training, recourse, and policy. Their bargaining team expressed considerable resistance to having trainings jointly developed by the University and the Union, and seemed far more concerned with fulfilling the minimum legal obligations than with providing recourse for survivors of sexual assault. We explained why, as the ones whose lives are directly affected by the policies, it is important for us student assistants to have access to advocacy and representation from our Union in navigating incidents of sexual harassment. A collective bargaining agreement includes real recourse, accountability, and meaningful access to a GWC-UAW advocate.
When we pressed them on interim measures and remedies for survivors during the course of an investigation, Columbia’s team insisted on maintaining the current policy, which allows for interim measures only when “appropriate”, a determination that is made solely by the University. When we asked that these determinations be made jointly with the union, their lawyer responded, ‘We have the legal responsibility and we’re not going to subcontract it to somebody else who has other interests’. What other interests is he talking about? Those of protecting workers? Preclusion of ‘other interests’ is precisely why a fair process should involve neutral arbitration.
They resisted accepting our language on protection against bullying, language on affirmative action, and language on ensuring all SAs have access to gender neutral bathrooms, on the grounds that these changes would be costly and would affect Columbia workers outside of our unit. We expect the University to come back with a counter-proposal which we sincerely hope will reflect its stated commitment to protecting community members from sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination. The importance of this topic to student assistants across Columbia is reflected in the letter that over 1700 of you signed, and we expect much more discussion at the table.
Later in the session, we engaged in productive discussion about our proposals on Travel, Intellectual Property, and Holidays. Columbia’s team asked questions about our proposal to give SAs equivalent IP rights as faculty members and to transfer a portion of inventor earned funds to the SA as personal income. We made some progress on Holidays, where the University agreed to acknowledge cultural and religious holidays not in the holiday schedule, proposing instead that SAs make written requests to their supervisors for time off on the religious holiday.
In response to our Travel counter-proposal, the University continued to insist on its upcoming travel reimbursement system, to be rolled out in January 2020, that might include mechanisms for advance pay. Columbia’s team said that our proposal did not take into account travel advances and reimbursements for SAs for academic travel not directly related to their work assignments, such as conference travel for TAs in the humanities, and seemed to suggest that we should expand our Travel proposal, to which we happily agreed!
In light of Columbia’s significant resistance to committing to measures that provide real recourse and protections for survivors of sexual harassment and discrimination, and of the Trump NLRB’s recent attempts to abuse its rule making procedure to curtail our status as workers, it’s more important than ever to show that our majority stands committed in our fight for a strong contract. Please continue to let us know what a strong contract means to you, by sharing your stories, feedback, and concerns with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our next bargaining session will take place on June 12th, 1:15pm at Studebaker 469 – we hope to see you then!