At 9 pm during Thursday’s Town Hall, the Student Workers of Columbia revealed that a vast majority of voters chose to give the Bargaining Committee the authority to leverage a strike in contract negotiations with the University.
On Thursday, September 30 at 7 pm, the Student Workers of Columbia (SWC) revealed the results of this fall’s 12-day strike authorization vote: 88.5% in favor to authorize a strike with 1,804 yes votes and 234 no votes. This result gives the Union’s Bargaining Committee the ability to call for a strike at any point in time, if they decide they need the leverage a strike provides to further push along negotiations with the University. The voting period opened on September 15 at 9 am and closed on September 27 at 5 pm.
With a previous strike authorization vote in 2020 that resulted in 1,833 yes votes out of 1,910 total votes—a 96% affirmative rate, much higher than the ⅔ majority needed to authorize a strike—and an agreed-upon contract between the Union and the University still non-existent, a similar outcome was expected this year. However, this year’s vote is significant in that it is the first step towards organizing a mass strike that could severely disrupt University operations in the near future.
Over the summer, the SWC not only elected an entirely new Bargaining Committee amid internal tensions but also wrote new bylaws, focusing mostly on the new demand of requiring open bargaining sessions, which opens every meeting to the entire union. Although the Union completed this restructuring by July, the University refused to meet with the Committee over the summer, telling them initially that August 25 was the earliest date they could hold another bargaining session. The University’s seeming reticence to bargain, as the SWC saw it, combined with tensions over a change to the University’s stipend policy, further galvanized the SWC’s desire to push for a strike.
The SWC’s demands have remained in large part the same as they were last semester. Notable demands include those for a 3% annual increase to wages (a practice the University unilaterally reneged on), a $300,000 union-controlled fund for healthcare, and the legal recognition of all SWC members as a part of the union’s bargaining unit. In an update posted on September 30, the SWC has included more healthcare-centered demands for the fall semester’s deliberations. Of these, the demand for “preventing NYPD and other government agencies like ICE/CBP from entering our campus or being given student records without due legal process” is particularly significant and follows similar actions of the NYU graduate student union on this front. Other points announced during Thursday’s town hall that are new to the bargaining table include the demands for no-questions-asked funding for those wanting to transfer advisors, increased childcare funding, and increased childcare hours for PhD parents.
Additionally, due to Columbia’s change in stipend policy and “[illegal retaliation] against striking workers” by way of a wage freeze, the SWC filed one Unfair Labor Practice charge against Columbia in September and is working to file yet another this Monday. This is not the first time the Union has alleged unfair labor practices by the University. The University and the SWC (then called the GWC-UAW) met before the National Labor Relations Board in 2016 due to Columbia’s alleging that the graduate students were not allowed to unionize and that the members of the union repeatedly participated in electioneering. The NLRB’s ultimate decision was in favor of graduate student unionization as well as a dismissal of the latter charges. According to a member of the SWC, “there’s never a good time to strike,” but the results of the recent strike authorization vote make the possibility of a strike similar to that of spring semester last year far more concrete. With the recent structural changes and the incendiary events of the previous summer, union activity this semester, including potential strike action, will be critical to the future of student workers at Columbia, the experience of Columbia undergraduates in student worker-led courses, and the activities of other unions of student workers who may go on to use these events as precedent for their own campaigns.
SWC Voting Booth via Senior Staff Writer Shira Michaeli