This morning, the Student Workers of Columbia began a day-long attempt to “shut down campus” as the strike continues, following a message from University administration saying that striking workers may lose their teaching appointments for the Spring 2022 semester.
Entrances to Columbia’s campus are currently being picketed by demonstrators in support of the Student Workers of Columbia as the strike enters its sixth week. Strikers are seen marching around the entrances, occasionally holding hands to form a continuous line while chanting. At the 116 Street and Broadway entrance, a giant inflatable “Corporate Fat Cat,” a cousin of the better known “Scabby the Rat,” can be seen towering over the crowd. The inflatable is a well-known strike symbol.
So far, the biggest picketing activity has been seen at the Broadway entrance to campus, though picketers are also at the 116 Street and Amsterdam, Earl Hall, Schapiro, and John Jay entrances.
Bwog was able to confirm the presence of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) of CUNY and the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys (ALAA). According to a union organizer on the ground, more people from other unions are expected to show up throughout the day, including from NewsGuild, DC 37, Teamsters Local 804, and Health Workers of NY.
“We’ve been fighting for a contract for a long time,” said Daniel, a teaching fellow in the department of Latin American and Iberian cultures. “I’m an international student. All of my income depends on this university. And it would be nice to make a living wage [and] to have real recourse against sexual harassment and discrimination. And to feel safe in the place where we study, where we work.”
As for trying to enter campus, a source trying to get into the John Jay entrance told Bwog that when they tried to enter, they were met by five “friendly” women who said: “We ask that you don’t cross the picket line.”
“I didn’t wanna [sic] cause any trouble,” and they agreed to not enter campus at that point, the source elaborated. “Maybe they would’ve let me in if I said I just wanted food.”
People who do cross the line cannot be physically stopped, according to Jeff, a picket captain. However, he elaborated to Bwog that “we might make them feel a little bad about their decision to pass the picket line verbally… and we try to talk to people before they end up in the middle of a picket line—the physical picket line—and try to explain to them what’s going on and why it’s important.”
According to flyers posted around campus and social media, and organizers on the ground, the demonstrations are expected to last until 6 pm.
On Thursday, December 2, Columbia student workers received an email from the Human Resources Department stating that student workers who continue to strike past December 10 will potentially lose their teaching assignments for the Spring 2022 semester. The SWC is arguing that the lack of protection for their appointments qualifies as a threat to permanently replace striking workers, which is unlawful under the National Labor Relations Board.
The SWC further claims that striking student workers who lose their jobs with the University will be largely unable to continue living in New York City, and many of them may be unable to complete their degree programs. Jackson Miller, a member of the bargaining committee, explained that “there will be a problem to continue living in the city. It’s already hard enough as it is with the poverty wages that Columbia pays us.” He went on to criticize the university’s threat of replacing workers, stating “it’s really just despicable how low they will sink to try to scare us off striking.”
The announcement from Human Resources came just ahead of finals week at Columbia and has stirred up a new wave of support for the SWC from students and professors, including the December 6 walkout, which focused on faculty-led support.
According to sociology PhD candidate and union member Dominic Walker, the organization of the campus shutdown “was in response to that email [about teaching appointments].” Walker also told Bwog that himself and other members of the union “planned [the shutdown] probably as much as we’ve planned any of the other actions that we’ve done during the strike,” in contrast to perceptions that the shutdown was organized last-minute.
As of the writing of this article, union members are optimistic about the results of the shutdown. Gesturing to a mostly empty campus, SWC member and PhD student Tamara Hache told Bwog: “The show of solidarity from all around the city has been really inspiring. And I think that really pushed forward this action, and that’s why it’s so successful already, only a couple hours in.”
Union member Daniel told Bwog that there are no plans to stop picketing “in hopes that the University will wake up, smell the cappuccino, [and] sign a fair contract, so we can get back to doing what we love, which is teaching, which is being with our students, and being with our research.”
Update on December 8 at 3:55 pm:
As of the writing of this article, union members are optimistic about the results of the shutdown. Gesturing to a mostly empty campus, SWC member and PhD student Tamara Hache told Bwog, “The show of solidarity from all around the city has been really inspiring. And I think that really pushed forward this action, and that’s why it’s so successful already, only a couple hours in.” Other shows of solidarity for the SWC’s picketing have included faculty support, support from prominent figures, and honking from vehicles passing by; one staff writer witnessed an MTA bus honking in support for the strikers at the 116 Street and Broadway entrance, an event that was also posted on the SWC’s Twitter. In contrast, those who were seen crossing the picket line were booed by the picketers, according to Bwog eyewitness accounts.
In Columbia’s second communication to students about the shutdown, Executive Vice President for University Life Dennis A. Mitchell and Executive Vice President of University Facilities and Operations David M. Greenberg offered guidance to students on how to enter campus during the period of picketing. The email, which can be found in full below, stated that students should look for a public safety representative if they feel they need assistance entering or exiting campus through the picket line. The email suggests alternative entrance and exit points for students, mostly through campus buildings that have both campus and street entrances.
Update on December 8 at 6:07 pm:
The picket concluded outside Schermerhorn Hall at around 5:30 pm. President Lee Bollinger had his “Freedom of Speech and Press” class in the building around then (from 4:10 to 5:25 pm), but he concluded his class early. Bollinger was escorted out of the building while students were left to exit on their own. Picketers did not attempt to enter the building, around and in which Public Safety officers could be seen.
Picketing will continue around the 117/118 and Broadway service entrance to prevent an oil delivery, which should happen at around 8 pm.
According to an announcement made as the picket wrapped up, the strike will continue: 87.3% of people currently striking want to continue the strike, and 77% of those not currently striking but who support the strike want it to continue.
Email from Executive Vice President for University Life Dennis A. Mitchell and Executive Vice President of University Facilities and Operations David M. Greenberg sent to students on Wednesday, December 8 at 2:48 pm:
Dear Columbia Community:
During today’s Student Workers of Columbia – United Auto Workers Local 2110 picketing at entrances to the Morningside campus, there have been isolated reports of difficulty accessing and exiting campus. In an effort to maintain everyone’s safety on campus today, if you feel you need assistance entering or exiting campus through the picket line, please look for a public safety representative.
Please also consider using alternate exits to the street available through Lerner Hall (115th Street and Broadway), the Northwest Corner building (120th Street and Broadway), the Mudd Building (120th Street and Amsterdam), among others.
Thank you for your consideration and cooperation in maintaining the safety of our shared community.
Dennis A. Mitchell (he/him/his)
Executive Vice President for University Life
Senior Vice Provost for Faculty Advancement
Professor of Dental Medicine at CUMC
David M. Greenberg
Executive Vice President
University Facilities and Operations
Reporting contributed by Rania Borgani, Sarah Braner, Victoria Melkonyan, Anya Kopyra, Paulina Rodriguez, Elizabeth Walker, Kyle Murray, Henry Astor, and Charlie Bonkowsky.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
Images via Bwog Staff