We are at a turning point in our campaign to achieve a fair contract. The initial stages of the bargaining process involved carefully drafting each contract article in accordance with our democratically-ratified bargaining goals; listening to and gauging Columbia’s response to each proposal; and learning the back-and-forth of the bargaining process. Now, however, all contract articles are on the table and the task at hand is to narrow the gap between Columbia’s position and our demands.
Most of the work of reaching agreement in areas where we share common ground has been accomplished; what remains is to achieve a fair contract in areas where progress will be more difficult: affordable and accessible health care; real recourse for survivors of sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying through neutral arbitration; and compensation sufficient to address financial insecurity.
Unfortunately, we have begun to notice worrying patterns during bargaining, not least of which is Columbia simply presenting the same contract language they had given to us previously, unmodified in any way. Equally worrying is their outright refusal to bargain over core issues, like health care, and their extreme positions on grievance and arbitration, and even recognition of who belongs to our union. While we recognize that bargaining requires compromise, it is clear that we need a bargaining partner that is willing to join us in this process. And it is equally clear that we will need to act collectively away from the bargaining table to put pressure on Columbia to bargain in good faith on the issues that matter most to us as student workers.
Despite Columbia’s intransigence, we have made headway toward a contract. We reached tentative agreements at our most recent bargaining session on Friday, November 22 on two more contract articles: Employment Files and Travel. The latter guarantees timely reimbursement, travel advances, and direct funding for work-related travel—a goal we had set for ourselves at the outset of bargaining and that sets a new standard for grievable workplace rights. This brings the total to four articles agreed upon, out of a total of 36 (we are working on a feature that provides a breakdown of these articles for the GWC-UAW website). On some, we have made significant progress and are near agreement; on others, profound differences remain.
One disappointing theme in bargaining is the sense that the administration feels we are seeking a contract primarily as a means to avoid work. For instance, their lead outside counsel responded to our proposal that student workers be released from work duties when the campus is closed for inclement weather by saying, “so if there’s a snowstorm, you can’t grade papers?” It is clear that Columbia’s team doesn’t appreciate the quality of teaching and research this workforce is providing—and at bargain rates.
The University’s lack of solutions to our very real problems is equally frustrating. When pressed to indicate what they think an instructor who can’t find sufficient desk space to hold office hours should do, the response was, literally, “improvise.” Well, student workers have been improvising—including being forced to hold office hours in cafes. Enough is enough! Given the tuition Columbia charges its students, they deserve better, and so do we.
Want to know how to get involved? Come to our bargaining sessions, to see and hear for yourself how Columbia excuses its irresponsible behavior, and to put pressure on their team to seriously address the realities we face each day on the job. Our next session is Friday, December 13, from 1:30-5:00pm in Lerner Hall (the Broadway room). We look forward to seeing you there!
GWC-UAW Bargaining Committee