We had an overall productive session with Columbia on Friday, February 5, with some significant progress and one tentative agreement—on International Student Workers’ Rights.

On Monday, February 1, the Union sent a letter to the Provost Ira Katznelson signed by leaders across departments urging the University to work towards a fair agreement by February 25, which will mark two years since the start of negotiations. We are currently working with the University to set a more robust bargaining schedule and will continue updating you all on any new dates.

Taking a positive step in response to our continuous demand, the University has developed a process to obtain UNIs for dependents on Columbia’s health plan so they can use the online portal for Columbia Student Health Services. This access will, for the first time, enable dependents to view test results and referrals, send messages to their providers, and schedule appointments more easily.

  • International Student Workers’ Rights: We are excited to say that after extensive back and forth we have reached a tentative agreement on this article, which has been a high priority for our unit. The University moved to our position, agreeing to arrange a session with an immigration attorney twice per year and to make a grievance process without the arbitration step available to international workers experiencing certain work status issues.

  • Health Benefits: We pressured the University to share information that we have been asking for since November so that we can make informed decisions about our proposal. The University said this information would be difficult or impossible to obtain, which contradicts our understanding from earlier sessions. However, the University suggested developing ways to address our concerns while sidestepping insurance plan design, including a mechanism to assist student workers medical expenses due to emergencies or chronic conditions. Two bargaining committee members recently joined the Student Health Advisory Committee (SHAC); the University extended the invitation as a way to involve us in Columbia Health, but our experience indicates that the current structure of SHAC would not eliminate the need to pursue changes through the contract, including adjustments to the insurance policy. We hope to see more specifics from the University as soon as possible, while we are approaching February 25 and the second anniversary of the start of negotiations.

  • Childcare: We made a significant modification to our proposal by adopting age 5 as the upper limit for eligibility to receive the childcare subsidy, which memorializes the status quo for graduate workers, as well as postdocs and officers at Columbia, so that we can focus on improving the subsidy amount. We continue to disagree on the inclusion of language that acknowledges the need for future on-campus childcare facilities, even though the University admitted that the Union-Management Committee would be able to discuss this topic regardless.

  • Non-Discrimination and Harassment: Both parties are now agreed that our team should join the working group that came out of the Columbia Postdoctoral Workers-UAW Local 4100 (CPW) negotiations on workplace bullying. However, we reiterated the inadequacy of the University’s stance on power-based harassment because it neither explicitly prohibits such conduct nor provides access to the grievance and arbitration process. The University acknowledged that power-based harassment is a problem, but has not moved on the latter component.

  • Union Rights package: We have withdrawn our Past Practices article contingent upon reaching agreement on the rest of the package (Subcontracting, Union Access and Rights, and Union Security). We modified Union Security to address the University’s concerns over language they had construed as limiting their academic purview.

  • Compensation: In presenting their revised counterproposal, the University cited Columbia’s decentralized organization as a reason for their resistance to our ask of standardizing pay rates according to job title. Nevertheless, their current position does raise the compensation floor for some professional schools. This is an important, positive step, but we still have further to go in working for fair pay across Columbia student workers. The rates currently proposed by the University’s team are below the economic gains from the past years, when Columbia was attempting to discourage us from joining the Union by securing annual raises to the total compensation. We hope to finally start seeing more movement from the University on economic items this month.

Our next bargaining sessions are scheduled for

  • Wednesday, February 10th, 12:15-4:00 pm;

  • Friday, February 19th, 1:30-5:00 pm;

  • Wednesday, February 24th, 11:15 am-3:00 pm;

  • Thursday, February 25th, 2:15-5:30 pm.

Please use this link to RSVP if you would like to attend any of the sessions over Zoom.