We had our first bargaining session of 2021 on Tuesday, January 12. Both sides introduced a number of revised proposals. Our discussions highlighted continued disagreements between GWC and Columbia, which we will continue to work through in future sessions.

We opened with a few questions. First, we asked whether Columbia has planned a response to the Trump administration’s damaging last-minute change to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. This change, which does not have the usual public comment period, would prohibit institutions receiving federal funding from using “disparate effects” as evidence of discrimination or discriminatory policies. Columbia’s team did not have an immediate response. We again raised the question of vaccine distribution after hearing reports of contradictory communications about vaccine availability and unclear protocol for unused defrosted doses. The University reiterated that good communications are a priority and said they would confirm how new state vaccination rules would affect Teaching Assistants at Columbia. Finally, we followed up on the question of providing UNIs for dependent partners on the student health insurance plan so they could use the online portal of the Student Health Services, and Columbia agreed to investigate the matter.

Bargaining Updates

  • Professional Development: Both sides passed revised proposals in this session. Columbia presented a revision that removed language about Individual Development Plans and Performance Reviews. We welcomed this change, which reflects our position as well. However, our revised proposal still seeks explicit mention of the level of financial support for professional development, which the University rejected.

  • Vacation: In the interest of reaching an agreement, we passed a revised proposal with a new minimum number of guaranteed paid vacation days. Columbia responded by making a very incremental change toward our position on that number. They also insisted on keeping their own language and refused to detail the reasons they find our language unacceptable. When pressed, the University did clarify their position as providing a minimum number of vacation days, which would not infringe on current department or lab policies that are more generous.

  • Effective Dates and Duration: Columbia passed a proposal to make this a three-year contract set to expire June 30, 2024. While we may find a three-year term appropriate depending on the rest of their offer, we are not yet at a stage in negotiations to formally respond to this proposal.

  • International Student Workers’ Rights: After some productive conversations in recent sessions, we presented a few changes that address some of the University’s concerns on the grievability of sections of this article. At the same time we maintain real protections for international student workers that reflect the concerns and priorities of our unit, especially after the COVID-related confusions of last summer. While Columbia has not yet moved on the grievability of these sections, two new provisions were introduced in their most recent response: (1) the creation of an international issues committee, with a seat allocated for GWC, that would address international student workers’ concerns and (2) commitment to invite immigration attorneys to present on campus once per year.

  • Union Rights package: Our new Union Rights package comprises articles on Subcontracting, Past Practices, Union Access and Rights, and Union Security; we have also withdrawn our proposal on Successorship pending agreement on the other items. Despite our efforts to work towards an agreement, Columbia responded poorly and held firm in their position. In particular, they continue to maintain an “Open Shop” position in their Union Security proposal, which is a clear union-busting tactic and would single GWC out among other unions on campus. We demand a “Union Shop” which is a system guaranteeing that the cost of representation is shared among workers.

  • Leaves of Absence: Columbia added a provision for two weeks of paid sick leave when a worker is seriously ill. We appreciate this change, which moves closer to our position. However, this proposal would not allow student workers to use this sick leave to care for family members who are experiencing serious illness–an issue that COVID-19 has made even more pressing. When we pointed it out, the University’s team acknowledged that there are no student policies or provisions in their proposal, that would provide leave to care for a family member with a serious illness. They further clarified that they are simply refusing to provide such benefit. This is unacceptable, and we will continue to advocate for leave policies that would allow graduate workers to care for loved ones impacted by COVID-19 or other serious illnesses.

Our next bargaining sessions are scheduled for

  • Thursday, January 14, 1:30-5 PM;

  • Thursday, January 21, 1:30-5 PM;

Please fill out this RSVP form if you would like to attend any of the sessions over Zoom.