On Monday, June 15, the Bargaining Committee resumed negotiations with Columbia University over the first collective bargaining agreement and the unit’s position on safety and workload issues that continue to unfold as a result of COVID-19 emergency measures taken by the administration. The following summarizes our position and Columbia’s responses on both fronts. 

Safety and Workload Issues 

  • Standardize and efficiently communicate access to COVID-19 testing, healthcare coverage, training, and reporting measures for safety concerns. 
  • Provide a centralized and efficient contact tracing system for all workers, ensuring that all departments adhere to the implementation of this system.
  • Offer reasonable graduation requirements and bridge funding for student workers who need extra research time to complete their programs.
  • Provide clear communications and guidance to student workers who conduct field work.
  • Transparent and safe teaching expectations for Fall 2020 during the roll-out of a three-semester academic calendar that will condense the semester in some departments to half semesters (7-½ weeks instead of 15 weeks).

Columbia’s Responses

  • Before Phase I ramp-up on June 22, the university will implement free and mandatory “gateway COVID-19 testing” for student workers who are returning to work at all campuses. COVID-19 related health and safety training is being finalized through RASCAL. In addition, anyone, not only graduate students, can report concerns to department Ambassadors. 
  • The university is standardizing an online system where all university workers returning to work will be able to log their symptoms every day. More information to come later this week.
  • The university will accommodate student workers and faculty who request to teach online in the fall.
  • Most of the Arts and Sciences curriculum will remain on the 15-semester schedule, at least for the Fall 2020 semester. Departments are exploring which courses can be turned into intensives to accommodate the three semester academic year, but this is mostly in departments that have already been offering intensives as the status quo.

The university’s response does not fully address the issues raised by members. But, also, no student workers are involved in the task forces making decisions about our well being. Adding workers to these task forces would expedite and improve their decision-making and communication. Our contract includes a joint health and safety committee, making it all the more important that we pressure Colubmia to bargain in good faith. 


Bargaining Update 

We mainly discussed Appointments, Job Posting, Union Access, Grievance and Arbitration, and International Student Workers Rights. 

We inched toward agreement on Appointments and International Student Workers Rights. Columbia offered new language about working together to assist international students trying to return to Columbia. The university also made slight adjustments on their No Strike/No Lockout and Union Access article. However: Their Grievance and Arbitration proposal still includes multiple provisions that, by his own admission, are informed by the experience of the Proskauer Rose attorney representing the university at the bargaining table. 

Instead of establishing a process that stands on the merit of the arguments brought to an arbitrator, Columbia’s Grievances proposal is meant to block decisions that the university  considers to be in conflict with its management rights and academic purview. Columbia also continues to insist on carving out cases of harassment in order to have them adjudicated by Columbia’s EOAA division—despite new Title IX regulations, which prioritize protecting the accused. In the same spirit, Columbia again refused to commit to an expected weekly workload in appointment letters based on the claim that providing an estimate would invite grievances—even though departments provide estimates already and both sides acknowledge a maximum workweek. 

We understand that Columbia’s team is bargaining on behalf of the administration’s interests but we expect proposals with a reasonable rationale rather than an attorney’s speculation about working with a student worker unit. Columbia is again showing its anti-worker stripes and willingness to drain resources from the university’s academic mission even while calling on others to make sacrifices. 

That Columbia’s proposals reflect the university’s refusal to take into account interests of workers should surprise no one. Columbia is an employer and, like any employer, will act accordingly. Our university should be an exception rather than yet another example of this.