On Wednesday, August 14th, we met with Columbia’s bargaining team at the Studebaker Building to present counter-proposals on Employment Files, Holidays, and Paid Leaves.
Wednesday was the last day student assistants were covered under the Student Health 100 Plan, and we began the session by repeating our demand that Columbia reinstate the Plan immediately and bargain with our Union over all changes to the health benefits we receive. Columbia administrators originally attempted to justify the elimination of the 100 Plan by saying they had no obligation to bargain student insurance plans with the union but that they had nevertheless consulted student groups before making the cuts. Well, during the Wednesday session, Miles Richardson, the Vice President of the Graduate Student Organization (GSO), that represents hundreds of affected PhD students at CUMC, delivered a statement to Columbia on behalf of the GSO board ‘you did not consult us and if you had we would have told you not to cut the plan.’ Though the Columbia administration team looked slightly uncomfortable during this presentation, they had nothing to say. Their silence speaks volumes about their largely dismissive approach so far on core issues such as health care and fair recourse for those who experience discrimination or sexual harassment.
This session brought us much closer with Columbia on the Employment Files article, which would ensure student assistants have access to work-related records including accomplishments. We passed Columbia our latest counter-proposal on Holidays, which would secure and make clear the number of personal days and holidays student assistants are granted during the course of their appointments. We also presented our latest Paid Leaves counter-proposal, which outlines the amount of time and the circumstances in which student assistants may take paid time off. In our proposal, SAs would retain their work status, housing status, and their access to the benefits and rights gained through the contract while on leave. In an effort to find common ground with Columbia, we decreased the total amount of paid leave an SA may take from 2 years to 1 year (52 weeks). For their part, Columbia offered a version of our Appointment Security which would ensure that appointments, once offered, would be guaranteed, thereby increasing financial stability for SAs.
Columbia’s team concluded the session by offering to allow neutral arbitration for discrimination and sexual harassment complaints if the survivor first exhausts the University’s current procedures. Despite an admission from Columbia’s lead negotiator that the EOAA process only “sometimes” works, their bargaining team continues to insist on forcing student assistants through a lengthy, murky process with no clear time limits or deadlines. While Columbia’s informal proposal was a small step in the right direction, if implemented, it would greatly lengthen the total timeline for the resolution of complaints. It also showed the University team’s unwillingness to confront the major issues with status quo policies that have been highlighted by our bargaining team and numerous colleagues who have bravely provided testimony at previous sessions. In particular, they continued to downplay the scope and severity of the problem, insisting that their current policies are more than adequate. We informed them they would have to offer significantly more to reach agreement on this subject, and assured them that we will not settle for a continuation of policies that obstruct access to real recourse and meaningful support for student assistants.
Our next session is on Monday, August 19th, 10:30-3pm, in Lerner Hall Room 477. In the meantime, please continue to send us your questions about the bargaining process, your experiences as student workers, and your hopes for our future contract! We look forward to hearing from you and hope to see you on Monday!
GWC-UAW Bargaining Committee