We met again with Columbia on Thursday, September 19, where we:
- Received a counter proposal on International Student Worker Rights—a response we have been waiting for since May 1.
- Continued discussion on Appointment Security, bringing examples of dozens of already unionized Universities that succeed in providing guaranteed appointments in a timely manner.
- Introduced a Professional Development article, the goal which is to increase access to funds that would allow us to participate and/or organize events not necessarily directly tied to our appointments.
- Introduced a Transit article, where we focused on public transport, biking, and Columbia shuttles.
- Continued questioning the University on their unilateral decision to eliminate 100 Plan in the midst of bargaining.
Last Tuesday, September 17, we met with the University to discuss Health and Safety issues and our differences in approaching contract language on this topic. With the help of two testimonials we reminded Columbia’s bargaining team once again that student workers are often the ones most knowledgeable about the specific dangers of our workplaces. As we walked through both our proposed language, Columbia failed to present credible arguments against our demands on improving lab conditions, including access to protective equipment, and regular testing for exposure to hazardous elements. They did, however, say they would revise their proposal on the basis of our conversation, when we will reconvene as the Health and Safety subcommittee.
Before we dive into what happened at the bargaining table last week, we should look at the national context of our campaign. This Friday, September 20, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) proposed a rule that would strip away our right to unionize. This is a clear attempt to promote an anti-labor agenda by the Trump-appointed Labor Board. What we can do now is slow down the processing of this new rule by submitting public comments—we will be in touch with you soon about the exact steps in that process.
Our seventeenth bargaining session started with Columbia finally responding to our proposal on International Student Worker Rights. This is a good sign overall, since it indicates that we will be able to solidify some specific protections for this demographic group in our first contract. Nonetheless, clearly, there are great differences in our positions at the table right now, and Columbia’s reliance on International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) might be an obstacle in the future. While their initial proposal leaves much to be desired, this represents a significant step forward for the student worker movement, since no articles explicitly addressing the needs of international student workers currently exist in student worker contracts.
When we proposed a counter on Appointment Security, the discussion quickly devolved into debating a hypothetical scenario in which departments would start providing appointment letters at the last possible moment to avoid appointing TAs to jobs that aren’t needed, like classes with low enrollment. Once again, Columbia didn’t find dozens and dozens of examples of already existing grad workers unions across the country persuasive, citing as usually some obscure distinctions between public and private institutions.
We presented two more economic proposals, Professional Development and Transit. In the meantime, we continue developing the remaining economic articles.
The goal of the Professional Development article is to increase availability of funds for student assistants (SAs) to participate in conferences, workshops and other events not necessarily directly tied to their appointments, but essential to their success in their academic field. We drew our language from policies of our peer institutions, including Princeton and MIT. Columbia assured us of their commitment to assisting their SAs in their professional growth, and we look forward to this commitment developing into a contract article that expands best practices that already exist in some departments to all student workers.
While it is common for Transit articles to center around parking, our transportation proposal reflects the reality of life in New York City and focuses on public transport, cycling and Columbia’s shuttles. Our proposal is ambitious and aims to make working at the University and living in New York more accessible. In addition, we are aiming to improve such aspects of the shuttle services provided by Columbia as safety, frequency of service, and accessibility. A lot of people rely on those services, especially folks working at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, who at times have to ride standing in overcrowded buses on the highway, with little ability to extend their work hours because of poor internet connection on the bus.
Last but not least topic on our agenda this Thursday was our request for information on elimination of 100 Plan that we made three months ago. The University’s negotiators insisted that they did not have any information on utilization of the Plan by bargaining unit employees, they were not sure whether a broker was consulted when a decision of such scale was made, and Columbia would not be going back to 100 Plan. In addition, Bernie Plum, Columbia’s outside legal counsel, disclosed that he never really studied our information request, and that the University eliminated the 100 Plan to save money. This attitude to our health benefits is infuriating, and we will not stop fighting for the coverage we all deserve!
GWC-UAW Bargaining Committee