Nearly 100 students, workers, and organizers crammed into the Ella Weed Room in Milbank on Monday night to learn about the recent struggles of the members of Local 2110 UAW at Barnard. Roberta Barnett and Maud Rozee bore witness to this educational endeavor.
Since May, Barnard’s office workers have been fighting to keep essential benefits, meeting much opposition from the college. The 130 members of Local 2110 UAW, the union that represents those workers, consists of the lowest paid workers on campus, making an average of $35,000 annually, and are mainly women and people of color.
“Administration will listen to its students before it will listen to its workers,” declared one Barnard senior. With that, the much-anticipated teach-in began.
At the teach-in, local 2110 UAW President Maida Rosenstein outlined some of the union’s recent history with the Columbia community. She explained that before Obama’s commencement address at Barnard, Teacher’s College and Columbia were in similar negotiations with their workers. With the threat of strikes looming, says Rosenstein, Obama’s appearance in Morningside was put in jeopardy and TC and CU moved to settle with their workers without making any huge cuts to their benefits.
However, members’ contracts weren’t set to expire at Barnard until after last year’s Commencement, and, as such, claims Rosenstein, the college did not move to initiate negotiations early. With no major incentive to settle quickly, the college and its workers remain at odds. Rosenstein went on to describe the “covenant between Barnard and its workers:” workers at Barnard have accepted lower wages in return for benefit security, and, Rosenstein says, the potential cuts to these benefits put workers in an untenable situation.
This situation isn’t completely new to the college. In 1996 the same union went on a six-month-long strike after health benefits were threatened. “We don’t think the administration would really like to have a strike…They’ve played it smart public-relations wise,” Rosenstein said of Barnard’s administration. “I think they’ll carry on a public relations campaign.” If negotiations have not progressed by October 9th, when the current contract extension expires, says Rosenstein, the union may have to escalate its actions, but it is unclear exactly what that will mean for workers.
Despite the generally dire situation, student attendees were enthusiastic, frequently cheering on workers as they spoke of their lengthy careers at Barnard. “I think it’s a really good sign there were this many students here,” said Pearl Mutnick, BC ‘16. Students are truly understanding what’s at stake here, and that’s a huge motivation.”
Those interested in supporting the Barnard workers are encouraged to attend today’s SGA Town Hall, from 6-8 PM at the Diana Center Event Oval.
Here’s a breakdown of Barnard’s most recent offer:
Leaves of Absence:
Non-Discrimination and Sexual Harassment: