We’re writing to give an update on the stipend change, together with charts that demonstrate its impact.
Columbia announced last week that starting this year many workers — Teaching Fellows, Research Fellows, or Preceptors in GSAS, GSAPP, and SIPA, and Teaching Assistants in SEAS — will no longer receive their stipends in lump sums each semester, but instead will receive their stipends semi-monthly starting in October together with a lump sum of $2600 for September.
Students who are not on appointment (often first years and those on dissertation fellowships) are not affected, which was unclear in initial emails .
Additionally, we learned that the directive to make this change came from the new Provost Dr. Mary Boyce, the former dean of SEAS, who led an anti-unionionization campaign before our unit voted to unionize and affiliate with UAW. Faculty were also caught off guard by this abrupt change.
By making this change, Columbia retains millions of dollars in their accounts accruing interest.
The impact (with charts)
For those this change affects, it is on extremely short notice and such a major change will be very harmful to workers who rely on the lump sum for loan payments, plane flights, rent, etc. To demonstrate the effect of the change, some union members have made us these charts:
The above chart shows the total cumulative pay for a worker receiving their stipend as an initial lump sum, corresponding to ⅔ of their total compensation, and the remaining ⅓ in semi-monthly paychecks. Plotted against this are the cumulative cost of living and the remaining funds the worker has to live on for the remainder of the semester at each paycheck (the irregularities are due to rent payments due monthly).
(Note that the pay graphed is pre-tax and the cost of living is computed for a single worker with no dependents, assuming $1300 rent, typical for a room in a shared apartment in university-subsidized housing but lower than the NYC average, and does not include any healthcare costs; this is why cumulative pay appears to increase faster than cost of living even though Columbia does not in fact pay us a living wage.)
The following chart depicts the same things for the new system, with a lump sum of $2600 in September and the stipend paid semi-monthly thereafter:
At the end of September cumulative costs exceed total payment: Columbia’s plan expects students without savings to go into debt to make it through the month.
Columbia has made these changes unilaterally without first bargaining at the table. By doing so the university has likely committed an unfair labor practice (ULP) and we have been advised that we have a good case for filing a ULP with the newly appointed NLRB.
Our Bargaining committee has demanded that Columbia bargain over this change and that they retract their decision. Bargaining is our fastest course of action since ULPs take considerable time to process. To that end it’s important to continue circulating our petition, especially among Columbia faculty.
Columbia has since explicitly told the bargaining committee that stipend pay is not contingent on employment status, which suggests — but does not guarantee — that they are barred from withholding it from striking workers, and gives us leverage if they attempt to do so.
What we are doing about it
As mentioned above we are circulating a petition; we also have a template for emails to Vice President Driscoll, President Bollinger, and various deans. If you’d like to share how this change will affect you, you can submit a testimonial here. Finally, there is a new specific fund to support workers harmed by this sudden policy change.
Additionally, remember that BC meetings are now open, in addition to working group meetings; all of these can be found on the SWC calendar.