Columbia has just made an outrageous and major move backwards in our negotiations over fair and timely protections against discrimination and harassment. This past Friday, February 21, the university bargaining team announced their withdrawal of their previous proposal allowing student workers the right to take sexual harassment and discrimination claims to a neutral arbitrator once the university’s own process was complete.

This move is flagrantly regressive: It moves their position farther away from reaching agreement with us, not closer. Moving forward at the bargaining table is a key part of bargaining in good faith—something Columbia committed to do under the framework agreement roughly 15 months ago. Columbia’s withdrawal of such a major proposal at this late stage casts serious doubt on the administration’s commitment to reaching agreement on a fair contract by April 6—the day we regain the right to strike under the framework agreement.

Equally important, Columbia’s regressive proposal is a direct affront to one of our central bargaining objectives, to enhance gender and other forms of equity in our workplace — a goal that a majority of student workers communicated to the administration in an open letter in May 2019.  With heightened awareness of the epidemic of harassment on college campuses and in society at large, Columbia’s move reveals just how low of a priority student worker protections are to this university administration. Landmark studies have found that as many as half of all female graduate students will experience sexual harassment or discrimination during their graduate program, while the university’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) office reported 3 findings of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, or gender-based discrimination in 2018-19—on a campus of more than 20,000 students!

Our proposal allowing student workers the right to  neutral arbitration if necessary exists at numerous universities across the country—both public and private—and has proved an effective tool for survivors of sexual and other forms of harassment and discrimination to address and enforce their rights.  We demand the same rights and protections at Columbia, and we will not back down.

The administration has just made it clearer than ever that the upcoming strike authorization vote is a critical opportunity to send a strong message that we want a fair agreement, including strong and timely protections against harassment and discrimination.

As April 6 approaches, remember that this is what we’re fighting for.

For more updates on bargaining and strike organizing, join us at our next General Body Meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, February 25th) at 6pm in Deutsches Haus (420 West 116th Street). Our next bargaining session is this Friday, February 28, 2:30-6 PM in Studebaker 469.