This Thursday, February 25, marks two years since we began bargaining with the University. Two years is more than enough time to reach a fair agreement, but the University has been consistently intransigent on agreeing to basic economic proposals and non-economic protections. It is now time for us to demonstrate our collective power as student workers and announce a strike deadline. We invite you to join us for two events on February 25––both in-person and on Zoom––to tell Columbia: FAIR CONTRACT NOW! Visit our website for more details and information on how to RSVP.

As we approach this anniversary, we met with the University in two consecutive bargaining sessions on February 18 and 19. As detailed below, we had considerable back-and-forth on a number of the articles which remain on the table.

Bargaining Updates

Compensation: We introduced a new compensation proposal that sets the doctoral stipend rate at the highest rate seen at another institution (Stanford): $45,850 for a 12-month appointment, prorated based on the length of the appointment. As many student workers are on 9-month appointments, we have also added in language that ensures the summer stipends increase at the same rate as total support does (which is also consistent with the current practice), as well as language to extend the GSAS COVID-19 summer supplement into this upcoming summer. A complete breakdown of the status quo, Columbia’s proposal, and our proposal is included below.

While we appreciate that Columbia’s latest proposal raised the minimum doctoral stipend for student workers in Mailman and the School of Social Work, their offer still reflects a 0% increase for most student workers, which is unacceptable.

Non-Discrimination and Harassment: We updated our proposal to reflect the fact that we will accept the definition of power-based harassment as set by the University-wide Working Group, of which we will be members. Until then, we maintain that our definition be used so that there are clear parameters for grievance and arbitration at the time of contract ratification. However, this is contingent upon the University removing the carveout from grievance and arbitration for this article—a position they maintain at this time.

Leaves of Absence: Recent counters from the University limited the scope of sick leaves to “PhD Student Employee,” thus preventing all workers in our unit from accessing this benefit. This is the final difference preventing a tentative agreement on this article as we argue that all employees need access to sick leave.

Health Benefits: While the University maintains that it does not need to bargain over health benefits, they have introduced a counterproposal that creates a $125,000 emergency fund for the length of the contract to cover emergency healthcare costs incurred by workers. The details of disbursing this fund are unclear at the moment. While this can be regarded as progress, we maintain that the University must make more substantial changes to health insurance benefits including paying dental and vision insurance premiums. Moreover, the amount outlined for the fund appears highly insufficient for a bargaining unit of over 3,000 workers.

Union Rights Package: We withdrew our Subcontracting proposal in an effort to bring both parties closer to agreement on the Union Rights Package. We continue to make progress on multiple fronts, but the fundamental difference still remains that Columbia wants us to be an open shop union, which is simply unacceptable, as we demand a fairer system of sharing the cost of union representation.

Appointment Guarantee: Columbia has yet to provide a written counter proposal on this article and maintains that it is doing an adequate job of supporting doctoral workers affected by the pandemic with additional funding, even though we have provided testimonials that demonstrate otherwise. We will continue to fight for a provision that stipulates an additional year of funding for PhDs.

Childcare: Columbia offered a counterproposal that represents a step in the right direction; however, we are still negotiating over a childcare subsidy amount that brings parent workers in our unit up to the level of other employee groups on campus. The University recently announced that they are not planning to maintain the current level of the subsidy of $4,000 that was an increase from the standard $2,000 due to the pandemic, even though the public health crisis is nowhere near over. Columbia administration needs to do better on childcare and not only when the schools are closed if they are committed to attracting the best talent to one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Our next bargaining sessions are scheduled for:

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

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

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