On Wednesday, October 7, we resumed contract negotiations with Columbia in our first session since August and since the election of eight new members to the Bargaining Committee.
We were pleased to see Interim Provost Ira Katznelson at the session, where he reiterated Columbia’s commitment to bargaining in good faith in a timely manner. He stated that his presence was a “signal that the university is keen to come to an effective, fair, thoughtful, good agreement.” While we appreciate his optimism, we pointed out that the University’s actual approach to the negotiations so far has fallen short of the kind of robust good-faith negotiations that would lead to such an agreement. In particular, we pointed out that eliminating the 100 Plan without bargaining, making regressive proposals on Non-discrimination and Recognition, and denying access to relevant information about bargaining issues have made it harder, not easier, to reach an agreement.
Before transitioning to the discussion of articles, we raised questions with the Columbia team on COVID-19 and international student worker concerns:
- New GSAS rules ensure that, through academic year 2024-2025, a PhD student who can’t secure external funding for their 6th year will be granted funding by Columbia. If a student has already “banked” a year of their Columbia funding by taking an external fellowship, will they be granted a 7th year of funding by Columbia? No. This additional 6th year of funding is only available if all other options have been exhausted. We pushed back by suggesting that this disincentivizes student workers from finding external grants and does not effectively extend the timeline to completion for 5th year workers with a banked year of funding. The University did not seem open to adjusting this policy, even expressing that perhaps students shouldn’t apply for external funding if this is a concern. He highlighted that this funding extension is currently only available to GSAS student workers and confirmed that GSAS will send out clearer communication on eligibility in the next few weeks.
- Do ISSO/CU plan to submit a comment on the proposed DHS rule that would limit the allowed duration of stay for international students and scholars? Are CU/ISSO planning town halls to explain the implications of the proposed rule? They are working with other universities to determine the best route to submit a comment, whether that be individually or as a group of institutions. Later this week, ISSO will send an email to all international students inviting them to a webinar about this rule to gather more feedback.
UAW Locals across the country held an information session with an immigration lawyer earlier this month—you can view the recording here.
- How is Columbia addressing the revocation of Chinese student visas? They have been in touch with the affected students and are pursuing all avenues of support in collaboration with other universities.
Sign this petition against these discriminatory visa revocations!
- The requirement about a filled-out I-9 form is still being interpreted differently across schools. Why is this the case in SIPA, for example, and when can a clarification of the policy be expected? The Provost sent an email to the Deans in every school with a clear directive to pay workers despite their location or I-9 status, so the University advises workers to take it up within their school. However, we also learned that the Provost’s email only specified PhDs. We pushed them for further clarity on how to help workers who are Masters students.
- Job Postings: After Columbia shared their new counterproposal, we adopted some of their language that achieves the goals of our proposal. We are not yet in full agreement over how certain details about the jobs should be included, but we made good progress towards reaching a tentative agreement on this article.
- Grievance and Arbitration: We made significant progress in today’s session. We continued to push Columbia to move on the treatment of the Management and Academic Rights article in an arbitration, which might influence the scope of what is grievable in the contract.
- Vacations: We continued to disagree over what constitutes a fair number of vacation days that does not negatively affect current practices and keeps us competitive with peer institutions. Our modified proposal specifies that whatever the stipulated number is, it should be a minimum, which is consistent with the status quo among departments and research groups.
- Leaves of Absence: We have not yet seen a revised counter from Columbia. We pointed to the changes in our current proposal: using gender-neutral language for family members and moving away from the language of New York’s FMLA, since we do not qualify for leave under the FMLA.
- Union Security: We continued to wait on a revised counter from Columbia, so we communicated our frustration and highlighted our biggest point of disagreement. The main difference in our positions is that we propose a “union shop”—a system where everyone covered by the contract shares the cost of representation through membership dues or fair share fees. The University’s proposal of an “open shop” is inherently unfair because it puts the burden solely on workers who choose to become union members. We argue that a strong union makes Columbia a more attractive place for graduate students—in the words of Provost Katznelson, our contract can be a “landmark,” not only for Columbia grad workers, but for private universities across the country.