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At our most recent bargaining session, we had a productive discussion over critical articles that highlighted the difference in priorities between the Columbia administration and our bargaining unit. The university’s team made some positive changes to their Non-Discrimination and Harassment proposal, and we also saw engagement from Columbia over Health Benefits.

Non-Discrimination and Harassment. Our proposal establishes a neutral process for recourse separate from existing Title IX and EOAA processes, and expands definitions of harassment to include power-based harassment, or bullying. The university’s counterproposal conceded to providing interim measures that protect unit members pursuing an EOAA investigation, providing status updates on the time still required for completing an investigation, and guaranteeing that retaliation for pursuing a complaint is prohibited. They made the concession to allow the EOAA process to be grievable in this counterproposal, i.e. if the steps are not followed appropriately by EOAA, a grievance can be filed. We are still not in agreement about pursuing complaints themselves through grievance and arbitration and addressing bullying. The bargaining committee intends to press on these differences in upcoming bargaining sessions.

Health Benefits. Columbia continued to insist that the existing insurance plan for students is sufficient, and that improvements to benefits, including Student Health Services (SHS) on campus, should be pursued outside of collective bargaining. We rejected this maximalist position of excluding all health benefits from the contract, but were able to press Columbia to allow the bargaining committee to meet with health team representatives to explore the costs of the modifications put forth in our proposal. The Columbia team has committed to providing more comprehensive data on the costs of previous plans, and the continued cost-related barriers for bargaining over healthcare.

Columbia’s past practice of unilaterally rescinding health benefits (elimination of 100 Plan) came up once again in our conversation, but the reasoning for that decision was presented in a different light this time. Where in the past, the university heavily leaned on regulatory restrictions that allegedly prompted the change, last Friday, their team clarified that this was only one of the reasons for cutting the benefit. According to our estimate, this dramatic change took nearly $500,000 per year in health insurance subsidies from bargaining unit employees.

Discipline and Discharge. We restructured our proposal using Columbia’s language to aid in our discussion about our differences. While both sides agree that discipline and discharge for conduct related to academic matters continue to be at Columbia’s discretion and not subject to grievance and arbitration, we disagree on the scope of what “academic” means. Our proposal clearly states that issues of academic nature, such as poor performance in coursework and other milestones or academic dishonesty, would be excluded from the provision of just cause. However, Columbia continues to insist on their language, which excludes anything that is “in any way” related to the academic mission of the university, from just cause. This would allow the university to claim that any discipline or discharge should be in their purview, as our work is essential to the teaching and research of Columbia. Overall, we had a robust conversation about our dual status as students and employees, and will continue this discussion in subsequent sessions.

Leaves of Absence. In our new proposal, we separated parental leave, medical leave, and family leave to mimic the structure of existing leave policies. We hope discussing each type of leave/accommodation separately will facilitate reaching an agreement, but the university again refused to change their stance. Their position is unnecessarily recalcitrant, since some of the changes we are asking for, such as gender neutral language in definitions of immediate family, are easy, no-cost modifications that should represent a win-win for both sides.

Management and Academic Rights. In light of the university’s proposal on Non-Discrimination and Harassment, the university removed language that Columbia’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) processes shall not be subject to collective bargaining. However, their proposal continues to state that health benefits shall not be subject to negotiations.

Our next bargaining session is this Thursday, November 12, 1:30-5 PM. Please fill out this RSVP form if you would like to attend any of the sessions over Zoom.