After over two years of negotiations, the GWC-UAW Local 2110 bargaining committee and University officials have created a draft for Columbia’s first graduate worker contract.
The Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW) updated their website earlier tonight to announce that they have reached a tentative agreement with the University on pay and protection for workers from harassment. The Union called an indefinite strike on March 15 to improve these conditions for student workers. The GWC-UAW agreed to enter mediation with the University in early April, pausing the strike and returning to work on April 5. According to the Union’s website, the draft contract “codif[ies] important economic improvements, strengthen[s] equity and inclusion at Columbia, establish[es] numerous workplace rights for student workers, and create[s] a foundation for a strong union moving into the future.” Key agreements between the two parties will be explained below.
The drafted contract now includes 2% pay increases for PhD workers, 5% pay increases for Masters and Undergraduate workers on appointment, and an increase in the minimum hourly wage to $17 for the 2021-22 school year. PhD workers and Masters and Undergraduate workers on appointment will then see 3% pay increases in both the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years, while the minimum hourly wage will rise to $18.50 for the 2022-23 school year and $20 for the 2023-24 school year. Student workers in years one to five of their respective programs will also see incremental increases in summer stipends from $4,000 this summer with an additional $1,000 COVID-19 bonus to $5,000 by 2024. A comprehensive chart found on the GWC-UAW’s website explaining the new compensation plan is provided below.
The drafted contract also provides for a “Support Fund” for workers’ out-of-pocket expenses for mental health, dental, and vision care. $200,000 will be allocated to this fund for the first year of the contract, followed by $225,000 in the second year and $250,000 in the third year. However, the contract states that the University will not include those services in their insurance plan.
Under the proposed contract, childcare subsidies for all PhD workers will increase from $2,000 to $4,000, and all PhD workers will have access to $5,000 in funds for Adoption Assistance and Foster Parenting programs. Additionally, childcare concerns will become acceptable grounds for graduate workers’ scheduling options. The contract does not specify any childcare benefits for workers in Masters or Undergraduate programs.
According to the GWC-UAW’s website, the University has also agreed to several changes in their current Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) process. These changes include Union representation, guaranteed access to all evidence for every case, and a new role in the appeals process called the Neutral Appellate Officer. Currently, appeals to EOAA decisions are heard in the Provost’s office and can only be filed if there is new evidence or a procedural error. Under the terms of the drafted contract, appeals will fall under the purview of the Neutral Appellate Officer and will be allowed to be filed if EOAA officers demonstrate conflicts of interest, misinterpret policy, or offer insufficient changes to working conditions.
Lastly, according to the GWC-UAW’s update on their website, the University has agreed to the establishment of a union shop, which has previously been a point of contention between the two parties. Until recently, the University had pushed for the establishment of an open shop, which would not require non-members to pay a “fair share fee” to the Union. Yet, the GWC-UAW remained unwavering in their position, often critiquing the open shop idea as a “classic union-busting position.” Now, since the union shop will tentatively be established, new student employees will have 30 days to either join the union and pay a determined amount of fees or, if choosing not to join, pay the GWC-UAW a “fair share fee” that would not exceed the amount of the membership fee. According to the drafted contract, “failure to pay union dues or agency fees will result in a penalty paid to the Health Benefits Support Fund.”
Not all graduate workers, however, seem pleased with the terms of this new agreement. The Care Committee (@CareCommCU), an organization of graduate student workers striking with the GWC-UAW, tweeted that “this isn’t the contract [workers] want” and that “it doesn’t meaningfully improve conditions for ANYONE on campus.” The Care Committee also encouraged GWC supporters to attend a general body meeting held earlier this evening over Zoom.
Columbia’s Interim Provost Ira Katznelson also commented on this tentative agreement, stating that the agreement is still “subject to ratification,” yet is a “significant milestone in the University’s relationship with our graduate students.” His full comment is provided below.
Statement from Interim Provost Ira Katznelson, shared with Bwog on April 19 at 9:14 pm EDT:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
We are pleased to have reached a historic tentative agreement with the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW that advances the interests of our graduate workers and strengthens the University academically and as an employer.
This full and fair agreement remains subject to ratification. In all, it marks a significant milestone in the University’s relationship with our graduate students, who contribute to the overall success of the University. This outcome was only possible because of the dedication and hard work of both bargaining teams. First agreements are always challenging, and this one has been especially so during the pandemic, which has placed Columbia—and higher education generally—under great strain. Our purpose is to make Columbia a place where all students can achieve the highest levels of both intellectual accomplishment and personal fulfillment. This agreement helps us attain that goal.
Ruggles Professor of Political Science and History
GWC-UAW March 15 Strike via Bwog Archives