On Monday, the Student Workers of Columbia and the University began third-party mediation in the hopes of hastening the process of drafting a satisfactory contract agreement. Unlike in Spring 2021, the strike will continue even as mediation begins.
On Sunday, the Student Workers of Columbia (SWC) and the University announced they will be entering into a mediation period, negotiating contract demands via a third-party arbitrator. This news comes in light of the union’s ongoing strike, which began November 3. However, unlike in Spring 2021 when the Union’s Bargaining Committee agreed to pause the strike to enter mediation, the current strike will continue even as mediation gets underway.
In a statement released on the SWC website on Sunday, the union expressed satisfaction over the decision to enter mediation, referring to the decision as “on our terms, with our choice of mediator.” The decision to continue their strike through the next week as mediation begins was approved by 86% of all Union members and 90% of striking members.
In response to Sunday’s announcement, Columbia Provost Mary C. Boyce sent an email to students on Monday afternoon, stating that the University is “taking every reasonable step to find common ground with the student workers.” Boyce reiterated the point from her November 10 email that “the University would take every reasonable step to end the strike as soon as possible,” and referred to mediation as the next “encouraging” move toward an agreement. The full text of the email can be found below.
Between the Union and the University, three mediator candidates were proposed: the Union’s choice, Kevin Flanigan, a long-time arbitrator with the New York State Public Employment Relations Board, and the University’s two selections, Carol Wittenberg and Damali Peterman, mediators with the conflict mediation group JAMS. Ultimately, both parties agreed to enter mediation with Flanigan serving as mediator. Speaking on this decision, the SWC praised Flanigan’s familiarity with the key issues of the strike, as well as his “extensive experience with collective bargaining mediations.” Additionally, the SWC cited a potential conflict of interest with Wittenberg and Peterman for what the Union referred to as an “extensive history of working on cases that involve Proskauer Rose,” a law firm that represents the University. In her email to students, Provost Boyce said Flanigan is someone with whom the university “look[s] forward to working to reach a fair agreement as soon as possible.”
Per Union bylaws, the mediation sessions will remain open to the public, a new policy incorporated into the Union’s framework after contention over the policy led to a major restructuring of the Bargaining Committee over last summer. Last spring, the Bargaining Committee’s agreement to pause the strike for mediation, followed by their tentative agreement to a contract with the University, garnered widespread anger among Union members who ultimately voted to reject the contract.
Although the events of last semester prove entering mediation is no guarantee that a contract will be reached, the leverage the Union gains by open mediation with their arbitrator of choice alongside continued strike action suggests the pressure is on Columbia in the ongoing work toward a contract agreement.
Email from Provost Boyce to Columbia affiliates on November 22 at 3:09 pm:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
When I last wrote to you, I pledged that the University would take every reasonable step to end the strike as soon as possible. To that end, we have been urging the union to join us in mediation to resolve our differences. Student Workers of Columbia-UAW has agreed to this course, and this week we are embarking on bargaining sessions with mediator Kevin Flanigan, a veteran of the New York State Public Employment Relations Board, who was recommended by the student workers, and with whom we look forward to working to reach a fair agreement as soon as possible.
Among the bargaining offers previously made by the University are proposals that would increase compensation, enhance child care benefits, and address non-discrimination and harassment, including by providing support for a change in advisor. The University looks forward to resolving outstanding matters in mediation.
Entering mediation is an encouraging step that holds out the promise of a resolution. Nevertheless, the authority to conclude the strike remains with the union. Until the strike ends, we will be doing all we can to support our undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty, directly affected by the disruption, while taking every reasonable step to find common ground with the student workers and restore normal academic life to impacted courses as quickly as possible.
Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Strikers on Low Steps via Solomia Dzhaman