Before we met with the University on Wednesday, October 28, GWC-UAW sent this letter to the Provost Katznelson from the organizers across the vast majority of departments and programs urging Columbia to start bargaining in good faith over health benefits.
Before exchanging proposals for the collective bargaining agreement, we had a discussion on a number of outstanding issues our workers experienced recently:
- Late Pay in Mailman: The University finally admitted that the situation of massive delays in pay in the School of Public Health were a result of an error not a policy. Their General Counsel assured us that 159 out of 179 affected employees should have been paid on October 30, and the remaining 20 should receive their compensation on November 6. It is obvious that late pay remains a systemic issue across Columbia—if you have been affected by late pay, fill out this form and a GWC-UAW representative can help you file a complaint with the New York State Department of Labor.
- Late Pay and Taxes: A case was brought to our attention of a student worker not only experiencing a delay in receiving their wages but also an unusually high tax rate applied to their salary from the second job. We clarified on the latter aspect of it that it appears to be a common problem of second job wages being taxed as a bonus. We pointed out how the situation could be improved, and the University team stated they would take our inquiry seriously and consider addressing it in a centralized way.
- Childcare at Lamont: The Bright Horizons daycare center at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory campus has been closed because they are in “breach of contract.” As this closure affects our membership, we inquired about the University’s plan to address this going forward. The goal is to get new daycare space in the long term that is economical for individuals using it. Columbia will follow up for more detailed information with Lamont administration.
- International Students Concerns: Columbia informed us that the Provost submitted a public comment opposing the proposed DHS rule on behalf of the University. They also referred us to the website outlining other efforts in response to the many attacks on the rights of international students and scholars, including lobbying work that was not made public before.
UAW International President Rory L. Gamble submitted a comment in opposition of this rule on October 26—you can find the full text here.
Furthermore, the University reported on the two webinars ISSO held in response to the demands of the International Student Working Group (ISWG) of GWC-UAW, including one with an immigration lawyer who would be available for pro-bono work assisting international students in attendance. Both webinars were recorded and should be made available on the ISSO website.
We reached another tentative agreement on the Retirement Program article that memorializes the status quo access to the Voluntary Retirement Savings Plan.
Our team also presented proposals on Health Benefits, Non-discrimination and Harassment, and Family Friendly Benefits, while Columbia modified their Management and Academic Rights proposal to be consistent with the recently agreed Grievance and Arbitration article.
- Health Benefits: We started this discussion by reminding the University that healthcare is a mandatory topic of bargaining. We introduced our redrafted language, which addresses all aspects of healthcare, with improvements to Student Health Services (SHS), Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), changes to plan design of medical insurance, and the University’s obligation to provide medical, dental, and vision insurance to bargaining unit members. Furthermore, our proposal would require Columbia to compile lists of external providers to assist both BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ individuals in finding the care they can benefit from.
A spirited exchange followed where the University did not want to budge on their insistence that plan design was not subject to negotiations; however, we feel the conversation was productive, with the University offering to include their healthcare team in the future discussion. Columbia’s bargaining team said they would also consider the other changes that we proposed, but could not comment before bringing the article to SHS.
We look forward to improving the health benefits of our bargaining unit, and if given the chance, for students at large.
- Non-discrimination and Harassment: Our proposal on Non-Discrimmination and Harassment is one that makes significant strides towards an agreement while providing protections for student workers that both our Unit and the University can take pride in. The biggest outstanding issue is the access to Grievance and Arbitration, which is currently denied in Columbia’s draft. However, our proposal is consistent with the requirements of the law, including Title IX. Moreover, we reiterated to the University’s team that our goal is not to change the EOAA processes, but rather establish a neutral process for recourse.
- Family Friendly Benefits: We modified our proposal in an effort to make progress in securing access to childcare for student workers. Our proposal is comprehensive but realistic: We demand that Columbia address both the existing subsidy and the childcare facilities, and we acknowledge that the latter requires expanding the currently existing programs. The pandemic has highlighted how the issue of childcare is often overlooked, and we hope the University extends the COVID-related improvements that were implemented in response to pressure from organizing and various constituencies into the future beyond the pandemic.
- Vacation and Leaves of Absence: Once again these two articles were raised for discussion and once again we were met with complete intransigence from the University. Their team continues to assert that their offer of 10 vacation days is reasonable. On Leaves, we pointed out several provisions in their latest proposal as examples of how it fell short, such as the stance on supplying federal Family Medical Leave Act as though this were sufficient, when it is not even applicable to members of our unit. If the University is serious about reaching an agreement with us, they have to put meaningful paid time off and leave proposals on the table.
Our next bargaining sessions are scheduled for
- Friday, November 6, 9:30 AM-1 PM;
- Thursday, November 12, 1:30-5 PM;
- Thursday, November 19, 1:30-5 PM;
- Wednesday, December 2, 9:30 AM-1 PM.
Please fill out this RSVP form if you would like to attend any of the sessions over Zoom.