Bargaining and COVID-19 Updates from the Table

Questions about mitigating the impact of COVID-19 measures on student workers topped the agenda of this week’s bargaining sessions. The responses we heard from Columbia on April 1 and April 3 amounted to directing concerns to the university website or to a vaguely defined “task force” of administrators. The only concrete step so far that we know of has been assistance with permanent move-out costs, announced late Friday, April 3. 

Below is a summary of both bargaining sessions, including Columbia’s responses to the concerns we raised, followed by a rundown of the articles discussed (bargaining is virtual now but still open — email for a Zoom link to the next session). 

Columbia’s Answers

  • Q: Will Columbia raise rent in June? Will the university suspend summer rent? 
  • A: Referred the question to housing administrators. 



  • Q: Will Columbia establish a COVID-related emergency fund; reimbursement for self-quarantine; or compensation for significantly increased online teaching workloads following the move to remote teaching, not just in the future but now? 
  • A: No plans. The priority is adjusting to online classes rather than compensating faculty and students “incrementally” for the work that comes with the transition. Administrators expect Pass/Fail to make managing the end of semester workload easier. Otherwise, decisions about responding to unexpected costs and delays are up to the administration, meaning that it’s up to the university administration to step in with solutions (rather than any single school).   

There are also no plans to help student workers if their grant-funded research is paused (if, for example, a lab is shut down or an external grant is pulled); or to assist graduating doctoral students entering the job market right now (for example, by extending eligibility and covering premiums for health insurance benefits). We heard about Columbia’s financial hardships and bureaucratic hurdles (and how it is pursuing tax breaks offered in the federal COVID-19 relief package) — none of which in reality prevent the university from taking any of these measures to help manage the uncertainties facing us. While recognizing the commitment to stabilizing the situation that Columbia’s administration has expressed, we ask them to work with the university community to address our most pressing needs. 

In the meantime, GWC members and our departments have been organizing around many unanswered questions people have for the university, because they’re worried. We are finding ways to help each other (see the links for resources and contacts) and the bargaining committee will continue in the same spirit at the bargaining table. 

In solidarity,

GWC-UAW Local 2110 Bargaining Committee


We’ve included contacts for concerns that are not addressed by your school’s deans: 

Columbia President Lee Bollinger: 212-854-9970

Provost Ira Katznelson 212-854-2403 

Residential Executive Staff Contacts:

(the facilities organizational chart:


Bargaining Summary (April 1-April 3)

Columbia submitted articles: 

  • Health and Safety; Management Rights; Arbitration; Health and Safety; Vacation 

GWC submitted articles: 

  • Grievance and Arbitration; Health and Safety; Fee and Tuition Waivers; Vacation; Workload; Union Access; Recognition; Family Friendly Benefits; Transportation; Tax Assistance 

Both sides have recently agreed on some articles despite the circumstances, yet as of now, some 20 proposals remain stalled. On April 1 and April 3, we again asked Columbia to give us counter proposals on these and brought up the following articles for discussion: 

  • International Student Worker Rights And Work Authorization; Workload; Paid Leaves; Appointments; Job Postings

We are moving close on several articles, even the ones where we have some big disagreements to bridge. But those disagreements make it a long and wide bridge that we need to cross. The main sticking point continues to be Columbia’s backdoor attempt to bring all work-related provisions under university control by claiming academic purview, an obstacle which played out in materially significant ways. For example, Columbia again rejected our provision to reimburse tests for toxic exposure (like heavy metals, even with advance approval for the testing). Additionally, they rejected the idea that we should have job descriptions. Their proposed grievance and arbitration procedure would make a contract all but impossible to enforce. Their proposals would offer us a contract without substance, one that does nothing to give student workers a say in how we are treated by Columbia, our employer. Columbia didn’t like hearing it from us, but the COVID crisis has crytallized how important the fight is for things like meaningful recourse for harassment and discrimination, a say in how excessive workloads are handled, and adequate medical benefits. That is why 96% of us voted in March to authorize a strike!