At 12 pm on August 10, Interim Provost Ira Katznelson announced in an email to the Columbia community that the University has ratified the 2020 Columbia Postdoctoral Workers-UAW Memorandum of Agreement, the last step needed for the provisions negotiated by the union to be implemented.
The agreement was finalized by the bargaining committee and university officials on June 30. As Provost Katznelson highlighted in his email, this document is meant to “establish how Columbia will operate in areas of substantial importance to [postgraduate] researchers and scholars.” The University’s official signing of the agreement followed a vote on July 19 by members of CPW-UAW, with 99% of the body voting for its approval (859 yes to 7 no).
The CPW-UAW began forming in late 2017 after the successful creation of similar postdoc unions at other colleges and universities and was officially created in October 2018, after 68% of those voting in the National Labor Review Board election voted in favor of its creation (729-yes to 339-no). In November 2018, Columbia released a framework for bargaining with the union; negotiations officially began February 21, 2019.
Katznelson noted that this agreement is a “significant milestone” in the University’s relationship with its postdocs, and also marks a significant milestone for the rights of postgraduate and associate researchers across the university. Highlights of the agreement, which are included below in a statement from the bargaining committee, includes historic increases to minimum salaries ($60,000 for Postdocs and $66,100 for Associate Researchers, which would make Columbia Postdoc minimums the highest in NYC), full compensation parity for Postdoctoral Research Fellows ($60,000 annually) as well as increased access to childcare benefits and a new grievance procedure.
This successful negotiation with CPW-UAW does not mark the end of the University’s union bargaining. The Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW), which formed in 2016, went on a week-long strike in April 2018 after the university refused to recognize and bargain with their union. Columbia agreed to bargain in November 2018; the union agreed to their proposed Framework Agreement and negotiations have been ongoing. Katznelson touches on this in his email, reiterating the University’s stated commitment “to achieve a fair and thoughtful set of arrangements as expeditiously as possible” with graduate workers.
The GWC-UAW itself has expressed doubts that the university is bargaining in good faith. Their website’s home page asks visitors to “Tell Columbia to bargain in good faith now” and lists behaviors such as unilaterally decisionmaking, regressive bargaining on key issues, failure to provide information to the union, and an unannounced cut to benefits. For those interested in following the developments of the university’s continued bargain efforts, GWC-UAW maintains a weekly blog with updates from the continued negotiations.
Interim Provost Ira Katznelson’s email and the CPW-UAW bargaining committee’s statement recommending the agreement’s approval can be read in full below:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
I am writing to salute the overwhelming ratification of the agreement reached at the close of June with Columbia Postdoctoral Workers (CPW-UAW). In the midst of a wrenching period for higher education, it is good to catch up on positive news.
This contract marks a significant milestone in the University’s relationship with postdoctoral researchers and associate research scientists and scholars. The agreement’s provisions reflect rigorous, respectful, and mutually successful negotiations. They establish how Columbia will operate in areas of substantial importance to researchers and scholars, indeed to the University as a whole. With the agreement now finalized, its provisions will begin to be fully implemented.
It is a credit to the negotiators for the Union and the University that complex matters were resolved by constructive concession. A shared commitment to intellectual accomplishment and personal fulfillment guided the interlocutors. We all take pride in how these goals have been advanced.
As I write, negotiations with representatives of the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW) are ongoing. The University aspires to achieve a fair and thoughtful set of arrangements as expeditiously as possible.
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History
The bargaining committee recommends voting YES to ratification. This agreement includes historic compensation improvements and establishes important new workplace rights for all Postdoc and Associate Researchers. We believe the agreement will not only improve our lives as researchers, but can also help make Columbia a more equitable, inclusive, and competitive research institution.
Key highlights of the agreement include:
2018 Graduate Workers Strike via Bwog Archive