The GWC bargaining committee met with Columbia’s representatives on Friday, October 18, 2019 to continue our efforts to secure a strong contract.
- We made progress towards reaching agreement on the Training article, including the inclusion of a provision that the union could make recommendations to the University on improving required trainings.
- The University finally offered a counter proposal to our Intellectual Property article first introduced in February. While Columbia’s proposal does little more than enshrine the status quo, it is a step forward towards strengthening the ability of student workers to receive fair credit and compensation for their intellectual work.
In this session, we also presented our remaining economic articles. Here’s a summary of each.
Compensation. Our compensation proposal addresses the systemic financial insecurity that student workers at Columbia face on a daily basis. Columbia’s own Student Well-Being Survey found that nearly one-third of respondents struggle to meet basic needs such as food, housing, and health care. This is compounded by the fact that Columbia Housing rent increased faster than graduate worker pay between 2007 and 2015, before we started unionizing.
To address the steady erosion of student workers’ purchasing power, we proposed pay increases that represent what our pay would be if it had kept pace with the cost of housing since 2007. Our article also stipulates that Columbia must pay its student workers on time, and provides penalties if the University fails to do so.
Titles and Classifications. In order to facilitate the variety of jobs that we hold at the University, we proposed this article that is aimed to reflect the status quo in terms of our responsibilities and duties.
Tax Assistance. Our proposal would reimburse student workers for expenses related to tax assistance and ensure the University provides free tax assistance to both international and domestic student workers. Currently, international students have access to free tax preparation software but two student workers alone recouped more than $10,000, combined, after finding errors in the way their taxes were filed.
Retirement. We proposed that the University start matching student worker contributions to their 403(b) Voluntary Retirement Savings Plan, a program that is already available to members of the unit.
Fees and Tuition Waivers. Our initial proposal would waive all tuition cost for student workers, a benefit many of us already enjoy. It would also waive or remit all fees, such as the International Services Charge and Health and Related Services fee.
Family Friendly Benefits. We proposed stipends that would account for the actual cost of childcare in New York City, address the financial needs of student workers with dependents above the age of 12, increase access to childcare facilities, and increase flexibility in scheduling for those of us with caretaking responsibilities.
Two graduate worker parents testified to underline the inadequacy of Columbia’s current annual stipend of $2,000 and the inflexibility of parental leave policies, as well as the precariousness that international student workers face under these circumstances.
Columbia’s response to our economic proposals was very similar to their response to our previous proposals. Rather than work to alleviate the core issues student workers face, the University remained laser focused on their sole objective: minimizing Columbia’s financial and legal obligations. When, for example, we informed their team that the cost of childcare in New York City is estimated at $16,250/yr, they frankly admitted that the $2,000/yr subsidy that student workers with children currently receive was chosen without any research on the actual cost of raising children in New York. The same can probably be said of their decisions to raise their graduate workers’ rent faster than their pay for a decade or to eliminate the 100 Plan without considering workers with chronic medical conditions.
With all of our proposals on the table, we are now at an important point in bargaining. Look for more blog posts assessing how things stand , what Columbia has offered, and where we need to go to achieve a strong first contract. Our peers at Harvard are in the midst of a strike authorization vote to encourage Harvard to bargain in earnest. We support them fully in their efforts to move the ball forward for all student workers.
Our next bargaining session is on Wednesday, October 24, 9:15am-1:00pm in Mudd 520.
As always, reach out to us with your stories and concerns–– we rely on your participation to fight for all student workers.
GWC Bargaining Committee