The bargaining session on February 10 focused on in-depth discussions around Compensation and Union Rights. While it is a good sign that the University has started to pass responses and engage seriously on these two topics, we continue to pressure Columbia to put reasonable proposals on the table. We also sought clarification on the new GSAS funding policy, and passed proposals on Childcare and Leaves of Absence.

GSAS funding policy. We sought clarifications from Dean Carlos Alonso regarding the new funding policy for 6th-year PhD student workers. Dean Alonso continued to remind us this is not a guaranteed 6th year of funding for all PhD students. The additional 6th year of funding through a teaching fellowship is only for PhD students who have not received an external award between years 2-4. The only update to this policy is that PhD students can defer the GSAS 6th year teaching fellowship to a 7th year if (and only if) they are (1) currently in their 5th year, (2) have not received external awards between years 2-4, and (3) have received an external award for their upcoming 6th year.

We pointed out that this new GSAS policy, while an improvement for current 5th year students, is unfair to PhD student workers who received an external award between years 2-4. Many departments require PhD student workers to apply for external awards prior to their 5th year as part of professional training. Because this policy is in place for the next three years, it disincentivizes current 3rd and 4th-year PhD students from pursuing external funding. Moreover, this policy is limited only to GSAS student workers, which is one of the reasons we continue to seek a broader one-year extension for all student workers whose research progress has been impacted by COVID-19 through our Appointment Guarantee proposal.

Bargaining Updates

Union Security. We had a spirited debate on our union shop proposal. The University continues to insist that they do not want student workers to fairly share the cost of union representation. They argued that this marginalizes those who are opposed to contributing to the union. We reminded the University that the issue of union fees is separate from academic purview, and that no student worker will be made to leave a program on the grounds of objecting to paying union fees. Nearly all graduate unions in private universities have a union shop model, as well as all other unions at Columbia. We once again highlighted that Columbia’s current position on this issue is a classic union-busting tactic as it strips the union of necessary resources to enforce the contract effectively after ratification. This is why this article remains one of the top contract priorities.

Union Access and Rights. The University continued to contest creating paid positions for student workers to enforce the contract and service the bargaining unit. This stance undermines equitable access to union positions, as not everyone can afford to participate in union activities in addition to their hours of work. The University also continued to insist that our proposal for information goes against FERPA regulations, even though we have asked for data in an anonymized manner specifically consistent with FERPA.

Compensation. In discussing the structure of the compensation article with the University, we brought attention to a number of structural differences between our proposals, including the necessity of including hourly wages. This led to a conversation on recognition of unit members, as many hourly workers in our unit are Masters or undergraduate students.

Addressing the cost of living in New York City, the University argued that our income levels were sufficient given subsidized rent rates in University Apartment Housing. In response, we emphasized that the vast majority of graduate workers spend over 40% of their total compensation on rent—which is far above what is recommended as sustainable—highlighting the insufficiency of current compensation levels. Subsequently, the University insisted that tuition costs be considered part of our remuneration, a position Columbia itself found objectionable when the Trump administration was proposing to tax tuition waivers. We also emphasized that at other universities, such as Cornell and Stanford, graduate workers tend to spend a lower percentage of their compensation on rent, either because they were paid at a higher level, or because rent in the area was cheaper.

Childcare. The University’s proposed childcare subsidy of $2,500 per child is insufficient. In response, we developed a model where families with a single child receive an amount we feel is fair and brings them above the level of benefit that officers and postdocs receive, while families with multiple children receive additional funds at a level that provides much needed financial help to the parents. The University responded by saying that they were interested in our proposal, but would like to consider amounts of childcare support together with compensation.

Leaves of Absence. While both parties are finalizing the language of the proposal, our positions are in agreement conceptually. The new sick leave allows for two paid weeks to care for one’s own health conditions or for that of a family member, in addition to a reasonable number of sick days without any reduction in pay or benefits, bereavement leave, and twelve paid weeks of parental accommodation. We expect to arrive at a tentative agreement at our next session.

Our next bargaining sessions are scheduled for

  • Thursday, February 18th, 2:15 pm-6 pm;

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

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

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

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