Thank you to everyone who participated in the recent GWC days of action and other efforts pushing University administrators and elected leaders toward a more just distribution of resources as the COVID-19 crisis continues. Together we have made some progress towards improving our lives as workers, students and tenants at Columbia, but we still have a long way to go to guarantee a sustainable University and community for all.

Urgent: Graduate students and postdoctoral workers from across the country are joining forces by urging Congress to help sustain our universities. Please click here to send a letter (in a few easy steps) to your Congressional representative and tell them to fund university workers: increase funding for research, support international students and scholars, and safeguard financial aid.

Before focusing on fights that lie ahead, let’s look at highlights of what we have accomplished at Columbia so far:

  • 3% stipend increase for PhD student workers despite broader salary freeze.
  • Up to $3,000 additional summer funding for PhD students in years 1-7 on 9-month appointments.
  • No rent increase by University Apartment Housing this June 1.
  • New option to extend UAH leases until August 15 for those graduating in May or entering their 8th year in the fall.
  • Enhanced summer employment opportunities for student teaching/research appointments.
  • COVID-19 Emergency Funds established in GSAS and SEAS for time-sensitive financial burdens.

Despite these steps forward, Columbia has not fully addressed a variety of issues we face as students and workers since the start of the pandemic. Continuing priorities include:

  • One-year extension. Columbia needs to follow a growing number of universities in providing one-year employment/funding extensions for PhD student workers who need it due to COVID-19. Columbia can afford this initiative that would also advance its core missions.
  • Rent relief. As we continue fighting for city and state measures on rent suspension, we will continue pushing for Columbia to become an example for all landlords.
  • International student issues. The GWC International Student Working Group continues to demand that ISSO and the University provide an emergency fund, regular communications, and timely assistance to international students and scholars. We also ask that they actively join our efforts as a union to push Congress for more resources to support international student workers and to expedite current delays in visa processing.
  • Addressing gaps in relief funding. The additional summer funding and GSAS and SEAS Emergency Funds are huge steps forward, but we will continue pushing the University to apply equitable forms of relief to those left out by discipline or by length of time at the University.
  • Columbia has not responded to our demand of extending healthcare coverage for those graduating right now beyond August 15. In addition, the University refused to repurpose the Special Healthcare Needs Fund to include coverage of COVID-19 associated expenses even as the University now considers asking researchers to return to work soon under unprecedented health and safety concerns in the workplace.

As we move into the summer and toward next academic year, it will be more important than ever that we fight on all fronts. The University is making decisions about reopening research labs and expanding the academic year to three semesters, but they have yet to provide meaningful answers to how health and safety, workload, job assignments, and childcare will be prioritized for workers. Columbia continues to show a preference for determining conditions of employment with little to no participation from not only just GWC, but all of the unions on campus. While bargaining continues and the urgency of reaching an agreement on our first contract becomes increasingly profound, we will also continue to demand that we as a Union have a say in the more immediate matters affecting the well-being of all workers at this University.

— GWC-UAW Local 2110 Bargaining Committee