At our most recent bargaining session on January 14 we first heard from the Executive Vice President of Finance Anne Sullivan who provided information regarding some of the financial challenges currently facing the University.
The report that we heard from Sullivan detailed some losses in revenue that the University continues to experience due to the pandemic. In response to those, the Columbia community has started seeing budget-cutting measures like hiring freezes, salary freezes, and leveling contributions to retirement funds to 5%. The presentation also emphasized the impact of the cost of Columbia’s COVID-19 testing program.
Despite these losses, it can be expected that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Columbia’s financial situation will be short-term. This will need to be acknowledged if the University is seeking a three-year agreement with our Union. In response to the presentation, we emphasized that the austerity measures will have long-term ramifications for many departments and that the decentralized nature of Columbia adds to the challenges that individual schools face right now.
In addition, we reminded the University how they need to do better on the issue of childcare, for example, by extending the emergency childcare funding that was provided over the summer. We also hope to receive a counterproposal on Childcare from them in the upcoming sessions.
We reached two more tentative agreements on Vacation and Professional Development. The University presented their responses from the last session in writing and we passed modified proposals on Leaves of Absence and Appointment Guarantee.
Vacation: While our team maintains that the University’s number of days of paid time off in their vacation proposal is insufficient compared to other collective bargaining agreements, we agreed to memorialize the minimum of 10 vacation days for student workers on 12-month appointments and 8 days for those working in the bargaining unit for two consecutive semesters.
Professional Development: In an effort to continue making progress on economic items, our team reached a tentative agreement on this article.
Leaves of Absence: The University passed a new proposal that extended their two weeks of paid sick leave to caring for a serious illness of a spouse or child. Our team passed a counter proposal which would give four weeks of paid leave that would also apply in the event of a sick immediate family member, including a spouse, children, parents, grandparents, and siblings. This acknowledges that in the context of the pandemic, many may need to take care of older ailing family members and reflects the legal standards of application of a sick leave. While shorter than the semester-long Medical Leave of absence available as a student benefit, having an additional option to take several weeks of paid leave to recover from a serious illness or to care for a family member would be extremely valuable to members of our unit. This leave would have continuity of health care, income, student status, and housing, which are common issues with taking official Medical Leave.
International Student Workers Rights: The University passed a proposal that reflected their verbal response at the previous session. We still find their position insufficient in providing access to the grievance procedure to enforce all provisions of the article.
Union Access and Rights: The University passed a proposal on Union Access and Rights with minimal changes to their position, which we find to be lacking. The University refuses to agree to provide information necessary for us to ensure members of our unit receive correct compensation. They also refuse to provide Union representatives access to onboarding orientations to meet potential new members of the unit, as well as paid positions to enforce the contract by handling grievances and addressing other concerns of union-management relationship.
Appointment Guarantee: We introduced major changes to our article, moving towards a universal one-year extension of appointment guarantees for all PhD students who were enrolled in a program during the calendar year 2020. This language can provide an opportunity for all student workers whose research has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic to finish their work.
Our next bargaining sessions are scheduled for
Thursday, January 21, 1:30-5 PM;
Thursday, January 28, 1:30-5 PM;
Please fill out this RSVP form if you would like to attend any of the sessions over Zoom.
Please join us at our first General Body Meetings of 2021 that are scheduled for
We will hear updates from the Bargaining Committee and organizers and start planning for this semester. We hope to see you at either (or both) sessions.