What is a strike?

A strike is a coordinated stoppage of work aimed at convincing an employer to meet employee demands. In our case, TAs, RAs, and others would stop our paid work doing grading, teaching, and research across the university in order to send a message to the administration that they need to make more progress in bargaining. 

Do we need to vote to authorize a strike?

No. The bargaining committee is authorized by the 96% YES vote of March 2020 (1,833 to 77) to call a strike if needed to advance the negotiations.

How would a strike look in the hybrid model of the university?

Regardless of the work format, we would stop working and engage in organized strike events like picketing for the duration of the strike. Additionally, we could ask that other unionized workers, who are able to, to refuse to work with the school; for example, during our strike in April 2018, many delivery drivers refused to cross our picket lines to bring packages to campus.

How long could a strike last?

We would hope that the administration would agree to our demands in order to avert a strike. However, if we do have to strike, the goal would be to demonstrate how indispensable student workers are. If the administration were to remain intransigent, a strike could go on for some time, but we would strategically assess the timing and the length of the strike.

Could I be fired for joining a strike?

The law protects our right to strike. Since the 1970s, thousands and thousands of RAs and TAs across the US—including here at Columbia in 2004 and 2018—have engaged in lawful strike activity without being fired. Beyond these legal protections, mass participation is our best protection since it makes it difficult to single out anyone even if Columbia did contemplate such an extreme action.

Do we attend the classes we are students in while on strike?

You would not have legal or academic protection if you refuse to go to your own classes. Student workers should continue their academic progress while striking; refusing to attend your classes as students is not legally protected.

What if I’m an international student?

International students have the same rights as US citizens to participate in union activity. It is illegal for Columbia to retaliate for protected activity. Thousands of international student workers across the United States have struck and been otherwise active in their unions for more than 40 years, including here at Columbia. Administration’s anti-strike campaigns often target international students because their visa status makes them more vulnerable, but you are protected.

What will happen to my students?

Ultimately, our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions: the contract provisions we win through striking will make Columbia a better place to teach and to learn. We would strive to educate students in advance of the strike so that they understand that it is growing out of six years of organizing and nearly a year of bargaining, where the University is yet to make meaningful proposals on both economic and non-economic issues. We would encourage them to contact the administration and resolve the strike before it even happens so their education is not disrupted. The impact of an actual strike depends on many factors: length of strike, time of the year, your duties, etc.

What is a partial strike?

A partial strike consists of you doing part of your TA/RAship work and striking on the other half and would be unprotected by labor law. 

What if I’m a RA?

Work/research that is absolutely necessary for your dissertation progress is academic work that you may continue. We want to be sure that any action allows the maximum number of people to participate with maximum impact on Columbia. The overall goal here is to strike on our paid work to pressure Columbia in bargaining, not delay our dissertation work. Conversely some grad workers will have to complete the bare minimum necessary to maintain their own research (e.g., tending to animals or live cultures) while refraining from other lab work.

What do I say to my advisor or professor?

You are not obligated to tell anyone about the strike, but you can and should talk to them. Ideally, we want them to tell the administration to bargain a fair contract so that a strike can be avoided.

If there is a strike, and I am unable to strike, will there be a penalty?

Strikes are more effective when there is large participation. It is important that we stand together if we need to strike, and show solidarity with each other. Our union will not penalize members who do not participate in a strike.

I support unionization, but I can’t afford to stop working. What can I do?

During our strike in April 2018, over 1,500 of our colleagues from across the university participated. In the event of a strike that lasts more than seven days, and if Columbia exercises its right to stop paying those who strike, all striking workers would be eligible to receive strike pay from the United Auto Workers (the national union we are affiliated with) of up to $275 per week for the duration of the strike. We could also raise money independently for those who would face extreme hardship in a strike (e.g., those with dependents). In order to qualify for the strike benefits, workers are asked to perform strike duty, such as picketing.

I heard from my dean that my job isn’t in the union?

The decision by the National Labor Relations Board that granted our collective bargaining rights, defined members of our union as all undergraduate and graduate student employees performing instructional services and graduate employees performing research service.

As stated in the NLRB decision, these titles could include, but are not limited to: “All student employees who provide instructional services, including graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants (Teaching Assistants, Teaching Fellows, Preceptors, Course Assistants, Readers and Graders): All Graduate Research Assistants (including those compensated through Training Grants) and All Departmental Research Assistants employed by the Employer at all of its facilities, including Morningside Heights, Health Sciences, Lamont-Doherty and Nevis facilities.”

About Program Assistants. At the time of the hearing at the NLRB, in 2015, the evidence was that Program Assistants performed administrative duties and did not perform instructional services or work similar to the work performed by research assistants. If today Program Assistants are providing instructional services or work similar to research assistants, then the Union considers you to be included in the bargaining unit. Whether you are in the bargaining unit or not, you have the same rights as unit employees to strike in support of our demand that the University offers us the contract we deserve.

Will there be a strike training?

Yes—we will schedule trainings so that we can learn from experienced strikers about how a strike can be most effective and maintain high participation levels.

I want to help. What can I do?

You can stay informed by joining our mailing list here: https://columbiagradunion.org/#getinvolved. Additionally, email us at columbiagradunion@gmail.com to reach out to a GWC organizer to talk more about how you can get involved.