The Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW) has accepted the University’s offer of mediation in exchange for a pause of the current strike, as stated in an update to their website on the evening of Friday, April 2.
After three weeks of ceasing all academic activity, disrupting courses and research, the GWC-UAW strike will be paused for mediation efforts, according to an update posted to the Union’s website late last night. The GWC-UAW has agreed to begin working again on Monday, April 5, “while reserving the right to resume the strike later in the semester” if mediation efforts do not sufficiently advance contract bargaining. “We believe that we have the best chance of winning a fair agreement this semester if we try mediation as a pathway,” the GWC-UAW wrote. A University spokesperson expressed a similar sentiment in a statement to Bwog, writing that “We have always believed that a meaningful agreement can be struck that advances the interests of our graduate workers and strengthens the University both academically and as an employer. The GWC-UAW’s acceptance of our offer to pause the strike immediately and enter mediation brings us an important step closer to that outcome.”
This decision was made after a bargaining session on Thursday, April 1. According to an update of that session, the University suggested a change in the bargaining process, agreeing to enter a period of mediation in exchange for a pause for the strike. Previously, the GWC-UAW had proposed this mode of negotiation—where both parties would communicate their issues through an independent, third-party mediator instead of directly at the bargaining table—earlier in the strike. Negotiations instead continued directly between parties for several weeks via a Zoom video conference that spectators could attend, all with the backdrop of the strike—a process deemed “counterproductive” by Interim Provost Ira Katznelson in a March 24 email to Columbia affiliates. The GWC-UAW had also claimed that they felt a strain from the current bargaining method, as they received feedback from student workers throughout the time of the strike that they would “more effectively participate in the strike with sufficient notice were we to return to work.” Mediation offers a potential route to a quicker resolution of the contract negotiations by, in the GWC-UAW’s words, providing “a way for both Union and University to speak more frankly to a third party mediator than we would at the bargaining table, enabling us to reach a deal more quickly.” Mediation coupled with a resumption of graduate student labor will allow graduate student-led courses and other operations to restart before the end of the semester and prevent “further loss of pay to the members of [the GWC-UAW] unit.”
Furthermore, the April 2 update provided instructions for student workers currently on strike. First, the GWC-UAW clarified that workers are expected to return to work on April 5. However, even though the UAW Strike Assistance Fund benefits ($275 per week after eight days of striking) do not apply during a pause, student workers “retain the legal right” to strike if they wish. The GWC-UAW also stated that those returning to work are not required to do more than a regular workload for a school week. “You are not expected to do three weeks of work this week,” the Union explained, “and the more work that remains undone the stronger our threat for future strikes. You must be paid for any additional work you do.” The GWC-UAW then provided a form for student workers to notify the Union if they are asked to perform their work in excess.
Though student workers will be returning to work next Monday, the issues at the heart of the GWC-UAW’s strike have not yet been resolved. Informational pickets and other GWC-UAW events will still be held to raise awareness and pressure the University to cede to their demands—pressure that has only been amplified by prominent political leaders such as New York Attorney General Letitia James, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and other New York politicians like Representative Jamaal Bowman and New York City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera expressing their support for the GWC-UAW. “We all know the University does not want further disruption,” stated the Union, “and we can evaluate in a week or two if mediation is getting us towards a strong contract. It is critical that we use this time to grow our power to take action […] we are moving forward quickly to attempt to work toward a strong contract through mediation while maintaining the potential to demonstrate our labor power again before this semester ends.”
Update, April 5 at 10:52 am: Interim Provost Ira Katznelson sent a statement regarding the strike pause to Columbia affiliates today at 9:03 am. The statement is now included in full below.
Statement from Interim Provost Ira Katznelson, April 5 at 9:03 am EST:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
As you might imagine, my inbox has been filled these past few weeks with messages conveying a wide range of views. One of the most compelling arrived last week in the form of a letter from members of the Department of Anthropology. Like all of us, they have been concerned about the impasse in collective bargaining between the University and the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW during “a period of enormous stress and precariousness for all.” These colleagues urged “conciliation, constraint, and compassion,” based on “a recognition that, whatever the formal terms of the labor contract disagreement may be, this remains, after all, a university, one in which our first responsibility is to our vocation as teachers and therefore the wherewithal of our students who have in effect committed themselves to our mentorship.”
With those watchwords about the character of our intellectual community, I am heartened that the GWC-UAW agreed on Friday to a proposal made formally by the University to suspend the strike and endeavor to bridge the remaining differences through mediation. Building on this positive step, and with the great majority of items already confirmed, we have reason to be hopeful that soon a fair contract can be completed. Like the milestone Columbia Postdoctoral Workers-UAW agreement, this realization would be a signal accomplishment.
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History
Image via Shira Michaeli