Columbia’s new proposal, while showing movement towards SWC’s desires on many key issues, still does not meet the majority of the Union’s demands.
On December 9, Provost Mary C. Boyce sent an email to Columbia community members with details on an updated package Columbia is offering the Student Workers of Columbia (SWC). Among the new concessions made by the University are various economic benefits, expanded healthcare, and expanded childcare, along with an article that addresses the SWC’s demand for neutral arbitration in cases of discrimination and harassment. The full text of the email can be found below.
The economic benefits the University is now offering the SWC are mostly centered around salary and stipend increases for PhD students on appointment. The University noted that these increases will be immediate should the agreement be ratified by the SWC. These changes meet some of the SWC’s demands, but not all: 12-month and nine-month appointment stipends would be increased, but not to the point that was originally demanded by the SWC.
The University did, however, cede to the SWC’s demand for annual 3% increases to the nine- and 12-month stipends. Notably, the University also offered a bonus to students on appointment, contingent on the ratification of this new package by December 23: $250 for undergraduate and master’s students and $500 for PhD students.
The package also offers concessions related to healthcare, the most significant of which is the new article about dental coverage for PhD students on appointment. This new concession from Columbia will allow PhD students to enroll themselves and their dependents in the Emblem Preferred Dental Plan, for which the University will pay “75% of the monthly premium.” While this article of the proposal shows significant movement by the University on a previously untouched demand, the SWC has noted that Columbia has failed to meet their demands for full coverage of dental and vision premiums for MA students as well as PhD students. The SWC and the University also disagree on the demand concerning an emergency healthcare fund: the University is currently offering a $300,000 fund for out-of-pocket medical expenses with a $25,000 per-year increase, while the SWC is currently demanding a $300,000 fund with a $50,000 per-year increase.
In terms of childcare and healthcare for dependents, Columbia is now offering the SWC an increased $4,500 childcare subsidy that will rise to $5,000 next year for each child of a PhD student who is under the age of six and is not yet attending kindergarten. Columbia is also offering a $100,000 fund to cover out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision expenses of the dependents of student employees that will increase by $25,000 every following year. These concessions do not fully reach the SWC’s demands, which currently push for the University to provide a $5,000 dollar childcare subsidy with $500 annual increases as well as a $150,000 dependent healthcare fund with $25,000 annual increases. The SWC’s demands also include a “stop the clock” provision for parents, which would “[credit] back 1 semester of funding eligibility after returning from parental leave.” According to the SWC, the University has made no offer concerning this “stop the clock” article.
Other central demands include those for union recognition and for neutral arbitration in cases of discrimination and harassment. Columbia still has not met the SWC’s demand that Columbia recognize all NLRB-recognized union members as part of the bargaining unit. As per the National Labor Relations Board’s 2016 decision to allow Columbia student workers to unionize, the SWC’s bargaining unit includes “all student employees who provide instructional services,” including course assistants, graders, and both graduate and undergraduate Teaching Assistants; all graduate Research Assistants; and all departmental Research Assistants. As of the most recent proposal, however, the University is willing to recognize only a specific set of workers as “Student Employees,” or members of the bargaining unit: Those who “hold an appointment to one of the following classifications: Teaching Assistant, Teaching Fellow, Preceptor, Reader, Teaching Assistant III, Graduate Research Assistant and Department Research Assistant,” or those who, “when employed as casual employees, including Course Assistants and Graders,” provide instructional services for at least 15 hours on average per week or provide 400 hours of instructional services while Columbia students.
The SWC and the University have also been unable to agree on a Non-Discrimination and Harassment clause, one of the key tenets of the SWC’s platform. Although Columbia has expanded students’ grounds for arbitration in the appeal process, the SWC argued in their last update—the full text of which can be found below—that despite this new concession, “the University has yet to agree to a neutral investigation for harassment.”
Boyce noted that the University hopes these new concessions will bring mediation with the SWC to a “swift and positive conclusion,” but the SWC’s response to this package as well as the recent vote to continue striking indicates that negotiation is still ongoing.
Email from Provost and Professor of Mechanical Engineering Mary C. Boyce sent to the Columbia community on Thursday, December 9 at 9:29 pm:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
I write to share new information that the University hopes will bring negotiations with the Student Workers of Columbia-UAW to a swift and positive conclusion.
In a mediation session this afternoon, the University presented a revised comprehensive package of economic benefits that will increase stipends and hourly wages, and expand health benefits for student employees at the University. We believe that for PhD students, particularly those with families, we are offering one of the most generous packages of any university in the country.
We will provide additional information about these provisions in the coming days, and we encourage all students and faculty members to follow developments through our unionization e-newsletter and website. In the meantime, here are the key economic provisions:
- Immediate (retroactive to August 1) rate increases for all categories of funded PhD students for 2021-22.
Total compensation rates for those students on appointment increase to:
- $43,621 for those on 12-month appointments, an increase this academic year of $2,101.
- $37,716 including summer stipend for those on 9-month appointments, an increase this academic year of $2,576 (total compensation includes a $32,716 9-month stipend plus $5,000 summer stipend).
Total support for those students not on appointment increases to:
- $42,766 for those paid on a 12-month basis but not on appointment, an increase of $1,246 this academic year.
- $37,074 including summer stipend for those paid on a 9-month basis but not on appointment, an increase of $1,934 this academic year (total compensation includes a $32,074 9-month stipend plus $5,000 summer stipend).
- Stipends will increase at an annual rate of 3%. New compensation levels beginning this academic year for students on appointment also include a 2% supplement. This supplement will be a component of compensation in each semester students are on appointment, for the duration of the contract.
- Summer stipend increase: Students eligible for summer stipends will receive stipends in June 2022 of $5,000, an increase of $1,000 over stipends for 2021. Summer stipends for eligible students will increase by $250 per year through summer 2025.
- A 5% increase (or $100, whichever is greater) in compensation for undergraduate and Master’s students on appointment, with annual increases of 3%.
- Hourly wage: The new minimum rate for hourly student employees who perform instructional and/or research work will be $20 per hour, starting January 17, 2022. That will rise to $21 per hour on August 1, 2022, and to $22 per hour on August 1, 2024. The University intends to compensate hourly student workers who perform instructional and/or research work, and who are not part of the bargaining unit, at the same minimum hourly rates.
- One-time payment: If the agreement is ratified by December 23, 2021, PhD students on appointment will receive a lump sum payment of $500. Master’s and undergraduate students on appointment will receive a lump sum payment of $250.
Columbia will provide new dental benefits for PhD students and their dependents, and create support funds to help student employees meet out-of-pocket health-related costs for themselves and their families. Columbia is one of the few universities that already provides health coverage to the dependents of its PhD students.
- Dental Benefits: Beginning next year, PhD students on appointment may enroll themselves and eligible dependents in the Emblem Preferred Dental Plan. The University will pay 75% of the monthly premium.
- Student Employee Support Fund: To reimburse out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision expenses of undergraduate, Master’s and PhD student employees. The fund will provide $300,000 in its first year, rising by $25,000 per year.
- Student Employee Dependent Support Fund: To reimburse out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision expenses of the dependents of student employees. The fund will provide $100,000 in its first year, increasing by $25,000 per year.
- An increase this year in the child care subsidy to $4,500, rising again to $5,000 the following year, for funded PhD students. This will provide coverage for each child who is under the age of 6 and not yet attending kindergarten. If both parents are PhD students, they each may apply individually for the child care subsidy.
Additionally, the University expanded a provision on arbitration that has been a centerpiece of bargaining. Previously in negotiations, the University agreed to offer the Harvard arbitration proposal to our student employees. Earlier this week, we expanded our proposal to add two additional grounds for arbitration. With this important addition, we have made the grounds of appeal under the EOAA process the same as the grounds on which a student employee can request arbitration. This means that student employees can choose whether to proceed with the appeal process (with a neutral appellate officer) or with an arbitrator.
In closing, the University is proud of this revised comprehensive offer, and we urge the Union to bring it to a vote before the entire bargaining unit for ratification by December 23, 2021.
We will provide additional details shortly, and we look forward to concluding these negotiations as soon as possible.
Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Email from Student Workers of Columbia Bargaining Committee sent to union members on Thursday, December 9 at 11:26 pm:
What a week we’ve had! Not only did we have an historic campus-wide shutdown as we entered our 6th week on strike, we’ve received record breaking contributions to our Hardship Fund — over $26.5k since yesterday, and $50k in the last week — from comrades across the globe! Yesterday saw another article in the New York Times on the University’s retaliation efforts, and also in the Guardian. Our Round 3 disbursements will match the generosity that our supporters have shown us so please don’t be shy, apply to the Hardship Fund and we will help you get your needs met. Round 3 closes Friday (tomorrow) at 11:59pm so get your application in ASAP (apply here) and disbursements will go out around December 14th.
At Tuesday’s mediation session, we presented an updated full package of proposals, which featured significant changes in compensation, non-discrimination and harassment, insurance, childcare, and other side-letter concerns. In total, these changes reduced the total cost of our proposal by 20%, and offered a significant concession to the University by requiring the EOAA process be complete before Title IX cases are allowed access to neutral investigation by an arbitrator. Every single change was approved by majority vote in caucus on Tuesday (find a working document here). In sum, our proposal continues to prioritize the representation of all student workers recognized by the NLRB and will allow all workers to earn a fair wage, fair benefits, and neutral investigation in cases of harassment. This bargaining committee remains committed to transparency and approval from the unit, and it will not make major decisions without first consulting the student workers it represents.
This package demonstrates that we are — without question — bargaining in good faith and that we are willing to make changes designed to reach a settlement as soon as possible while still respecting the reasonable needs of student workers.
Provost Boyce has suggested that the University has made several, considerable concessions over the course of mediation, painting the union as intransigent, having “not moved significantly on any of the core issues on the table.” We are impressed with the Provost’s pretense of knowing what happens in mediation, as she has never once attended a mediation or bargaining session herself — a fact evidenced by the many errors riddling her University-wide emails. We are still waiting for the Provost to join us in this important dialogue, rather than engaging in a mass email smear campaign that moves us nowhere closer to a fair contract.
The strike is working. Columbia’s recent efforts to intimidate student workers prove that the University is desperate to conclude this strike. Faculty, undergrads, community members, and fellow student workers across the nation see our need for a good contract and have expressed their support. Now, at the end of the semester — the time when our labor is arguably most visible — we need to stand firm and show that we will not accept anything less than a contract that is livable, sustainable, and fair.
Tonight, the university gave us a counter-package of proposals. Notably, the University offered to cover 75% of dental premiums for PhD workers and their dependents (only while on appointment), and accepted the support fund structure we proposed by establishing a fund for both student employees and dependents – a step in our direction. Unfortunately, this was the only economic concession of note, among several minor concessions totaling around $100,000. The University has still not made any reasonable effort to address the cost of living in New York City in the way of an adequate compensation article and they maintain an unwillingness to achieve pay parity. Non-discrimination and Recognition won small improvements, but the University has yet to agree to a neutral investigation for harassment nor to full recognition of our unit.
A week ago the University threatened us with illegal retaliation. They said they would replace our labor if we did not return to work by tomorrow, December 10th. And yet, look at what we’ve accomplished since then. Our strike continues to grow stronger and louder, despite the University administration’s efforts to break us by withholding our wages, spreading misinformation, and illegal and empty threats to the security of our appointments next semester. We have heard from departments across campus that regardless of the University’s intentions, they will refuse to replace our labor for the Spring. We are pursuing every legal avenue to safeguard the rights of student workers to fight for fair working conditions free from retaliation. During Monday’s faculty/staff rally, we heard speeches from allies throughout our community who stand with us. On Wednesday, a supermajority of 87% of student workers on strike indicated their intention and resolve to continue our strike into the next week. Tomorrow, we show the University that we do not feel threatened by their rhetoric, and that we will persevere until we win the contract we deserve. We fully acknowledge the difficulties of this struggle and are with you in the anxiety of the unknown, but we also remain steadfast in the fight for a living wage, full recognition, comprehensive health benefits, and neutral third-party arbitration. This fight is bigger than all of us, and this fight is worth it – and if the University’s panicked disinformation campaign waged over the past couple of weeks is any indication, we are closer to victory than we’ve ever been in the history of student worker unionization at Columbia.
We have another mediation session with Kevin tomorrow at 11:00am following Columbia’s new proposal. You can join mediation on this link and caucus at 10:30am on this link. And don’t forget to join us for the return of Pawlidarity on the picket line on college walk tomorrow at 10:00am! It will be a very cuddly way to end the week.
Your bargaining committee
|Current rates||CU Current Proposal||SWC Demand|
Graphic by Ava Morouse
Image via Charlie Bonkowsky