Provost Boyce addresses a main demand of the SWC—neutral arbitration—outlines student worker strike attestation requests, and discusses mediation in an email to students sent earlier this evening.
On Wednesday evening, Columbia Provost Mary C. Boyce sent an email to students providing an update on the University’s interactions with the Student Workers of Columbia, giving details on the University’s proposals for a tentative Union contract. Boyce’s email also responds to the SWC’s current strike, which began last Wednesday. The full text of the email can be found below.
Provost Boyce outlined the University’s interactions with the Union in the weeks leading up to the strike and addressed several additional concerns, including the University’s stance on meeting the Union’s demand for neutral arbitration in non-discrimination and sexual harassment cases, and the University’s request for graduate student workers to attest to their participation in the strike. Provost Boyce referenced the expanded proposals presented by the University to the SWC in negotiations prior to the November 3 strike, which, if agreed upon, would raise compensation, increase summer stipends and child care benefits, and create an available fund to cover out-of-pocket health care costs. The proposals were deemed insufficient by the Bargaining Committee and did not change the decision to strike.
Additionally, Provost Boyce claimed that the University began offering mediation to discuss Union demands more than a week before the start of the strike, and offered again after the strike began, but “the Union has so far not engaged in concrete discussions of mediation.” On November 3, the first day of the strike, the Union argued it is “far too soon to go to mediation” in an email sent to SWC members. It was through mediation—negotiations conducted with a third-party arbitrator—that the tentative contract of Spring 2021 was reached between the then-GWC’s Bargaining Committee and the University. Prior to agreeing to mediation, both the Union and the University had proposed it as a solution, with the Union’s Bargaining Committee claiming it would give them “the best chance of winning a fair agreement,” despite the general body later rejecting the tentative contract.
Provost Boyce addressed the SWC’s demand for third-party arbitration in cases of non-discrimination and sexual harassment by claiming that the University is “committed to discuss our ideas when we have a mediator in place,” citing the Union’s earlier rejection of mediation as the reason why these discussions have not moved forward. In updates on the University’s official Graduate Student Unionization website, the administration has suggested that further changes from these new proposals and those of the rejected agreement could occur “if bargaining were to continue before a mediator.”
Finally, addressing the University’s request that all graduate student workers attest to whether or not they are participating in the strike, Provost Boyce claimed that this measure ensures Union members who have continued to work throughout the strike as instructors or researchers will be paid accordingly, and that the University’s “federal reporting requirements, related to grant funding,” require it to detail which Union members are continuing to work, and which are on strike. The Union has argued that the withholding of pay for striking members—which is the University’s legal right—counteracts the idea of “fair” negotiations, and has suggested that the withholding of stipends in particular is illegal practice.
Provost Boyce ended her email by reiterating the University’s “willingness to reach an agreement” with the SWC, referencing what she called a “series of generous proposals we have brought to the table that would measurably further improve the lives of our students.”
Email from Provost Boyce to Columbia affiliates on November 10 at 6:27 pm:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
I write again to update you on negotiations with our student workers. As you are aware, the Student Workers of Columbia-UAW went on strike last Wednesday. I want to express my commitment to our community that the University will take every reasonable step to end the strike as soon as possible.
In bargaining sessions this fall before the strike was called, the University presented to the Union a package of enhanced proposals that raised compensation beyond the increases in the Tentative Agreement of last April. It also increased summer stipends, child care benefits, and the fund available to cover out-of-pocket health care costs. One proposal provided funding for PhD students in situations where a change of advisors is determined to be necessary; this proposal was recently expanded with the adoption of key aspects of the Union’s position.
In response to the SWC-UAW demand for arbitration related to issues of non-discrimination and harassment, we have committed to discuss our ideas when we have a mediator in place. We welcome the chance to negotiate in a constructive setting this and other remaining issues important to the Union. The University offered mediation over two weeks ago—more than a week before the strike started—and subsequently repeated the offer, which has not yet been endorsed by the Union. We believe mediation can be especially helpful in scenarios such as this one, involving a first contract; however, the Union has so far not engaged in concrete discussions of mediation.
I would also like to address why we now require members of the bargaining unit to attest to whether they are working during the strike. The attestations help us to ensure that members of the bargaining unit who continue to serve as instructors and researchers during the strike are paid. Moreover, our federal reporting requirements related to grant funding oblige us to confirm which SWC-UAW members are continuing to work and which are not. This is why attestations are subject to verification, and why there are consequences for misrepresentation.
The University’s willingness to reach an agreement is manifested in the series of generous proposals we have brought to the table that would measurably further improve the lives of our students. We will continue to provide frequent updates on negotiations, along with information via FAQs, as we work toward a resolution beneficial to all.
Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Reporting contributed by Paulina Rodriguez, Victoria Borlando, and Lillian Rountree.
Strike Honk Sign via Charlie Bonkowsky