On Friday, the Student Workers of Columbia announced it has reached a tentative agreement with the University on a four-year contract, bringing an end to its 10-week strike.
This afternoon, Columbia and the Student Workers of Columbia (SWC) announced they have reached a tentative agreement regarding a new four-year contract for student workers. As a result, SWC members have voted to end their strike, before the agreement is finalized by a Union ratification vote. The move comes 10 weeks after union members voted to authorize a strike, six weeks after SWC agreed to enter mediation with the University, and after several, intense, hours-long mediation sessions throughout winter break. The full text of statements from both the SWC and the University can be found below.
The SWC will now enter a 15-day discussion period, followed by a five-day voting period from January 22 to January 27, during which the union members will have the opportunity to vote to approve or reject the new contract. The results of this vote will be announced on January 28. The announcement of the tentative agreement has already garnered celebrations on social media from union members, a dramatic contrast to the tone of the highly controversial tentative agreement reached during last spring’s strike.
The end of the Union’s previous strike in Spring 2021 was marred by internal conflict after their bargaining committee agreed to stop the strike in exchange for entering mediation before a tentative agreement had been reached. The decision was highly controversial among rank-and-file union members, resulting in the Union body voting to overturn the bargaining committee’s tentative agreement for a new contract with the University, and leaving many unsure about the Union’s future. Over the summer, the Union underwent a major restructuring, including a name change, from “Graduate Workers of Columbia” to “Student Workers of Columbia,” electing an entirely new bargaining committee, and making significant changes to their bylaws. Unlike in the spring, the Union’s statement on the tentative agreement reached earlier today seems marked by an air of optimism, expressing confidence that the contract meets their demands and will soon be ratified. In their statement, the SWC credited the success of the fall semester’s strike to the election of their new bargaining committee and the significant changes to their bylaws, which they say “ensured that bargaining strategy is democratically informed by rank-and-file union members.”
In a statement on January 6, the SWC assured it has “detailed plans” for striking workers to grade assignments and provide additional support to students whose classes were disrupted by the strike, including those who will need to complete additional coursework during Spring 2022 to receive credit. Additionally, per an earlier stipulation by the University, because the strike ended by 12 pm on January 7, courses that were scheduled to be taught by graduate student workers in the Spring 2022 semester will continue as scheduled, without disruption.
As per the Union’s most recent statement, the new contract meets all four of the SWC’s core demands going into the strike. Most prominently, the contract features pay raises of up to 30% for student workers on nine and 12-month stipends, as well as hourly workers in research and instructional positions. Additionally, the new contract will also secure the Union’s right to third-party arbitration for cases of harassment and discrimination following an investigation by the University’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Office, one of the SWC’s central demands throughout the strike. Further, the contract significantly expands coverage provided by the University for both healthcare and childcare, expanding the University’s childcare stipends, offering dental insurance, and establishing a $300,000 emergency health fund. Finally, the contract also grants the Union full unit recognition by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), complying with the NLRB’s 2017 decision to recognize the SWC and expanding the number of workers eligible to join the Union. On the University’s side, the three unfair labor practice charges filed against them by the SWC have been dropped.
In a larger sense, this agreement marks resolution to a contentious debate between the Union and University for a first contract, one that has resulted in three strikes in the last four years. As bargaining committee Nadeem Mansour said in the Union’s most recent statement, “what our members achieved is impressive, but this is only the start. We look forward to building on our strong union culture to ensure the University continues to meet the needs of student workers.”
Per the terms of the new contract, the Union has agreed to forfeit its right to strike for the next four years while the contract remains in place. With this new development, both the Union and the University have expressed their hope that the disruption to student life caused by the strike will come to an end with the ratification of this contract. In an email to students on Friday afternoon, Columbia Provost Mary C. Boyce said she is “optimistic” that by the start of the Spring 2022 semester on January 18, “Columbia will fully return to the normal rhythm of academic life.”
Statement from SWC shared with Bwog on January 7, 2022, at 2:38 pm:
Student Workers of Columbia Reach Tentative Agreement with Columbia University, Vote to End Strike
The tentative agreement and vote to end the strike ends the largest strike in the country after instructors, teaching assistants, and researchers stopped work for over ten weeks.
MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, NEW YORK, NY – On January 7, Student Workers of Columbia (SWC-UAW Local 2110) voted to end the largest strike in the country. The vote comes after the SWC bargaining committee voted to recommend the agreement for ratification.
The four-year tentative agreement secured major victories on all of SWC’s four core demands: compensation, healthcare, neutral third party arbitration, and full unit recognition.
Student workers won pay raises of up to 30%, achieving pay parity for programs like Social Work that previously made $19,000 below a living wage in New York City. Workers in PhD programs on 12-month appointments will receive a 6% raise, and those on 9-month appointments will receive a 9.6% raise. All programs will receive subsequent minimum annual raises of 3% while on appointment. Hourly research and instructional student workers across the University will jump from a $15/hour minimum to hourly rates of $21 beginning January 2022 and rising to $22.50 by August 2024. On benefits, the University has agreed to offer dental insurance with 75% premium coverage; $5,000 childcare stipends (increasing by $500 annually); plus a $300,000 emergency health fund that any student worker can draw from, increasing by $50,000 in the second year, and by $25,000 in each subsequent year of the contract.
SWC also secured the right to full, neutral third party arbitration in cases of harassment and discrimination following investigation by the University’s Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (EOAA) Office. Previously, Columbia restricted its investigation to internal procedures that allowed the University to investigate itself and limited accountability mechanisms if the University did find perpetrators responsible.
Finally, SWC won full unit recognition for any student worker who performs instructional or research work at the University consistent with the National Labor Relations Board’s 2017 certification decision. Columbia University has sought to restrict the scope of the unit as defined by the NLRB. The University’s previous proposals restricted bargaining unit membership to salaried workers and “casual” employees who hit a restrictive minimum of hours worked per week. This would mean student workers who did not hit an arbitrarily-determined hourly threshold would not be subject to the union’s additional protections against sexual harassment, discrimination, late pay, and more, although they may perform the same duties and work similar amounts in practice. The tentative agreement affirms the NLRB’s more expansive scope of the unit and affords any student worker enhanced workplace protections.
“We are thrilled to reach an agreement with Columbia after seven years of building toward this first contract. What our members achieved is impressive, but this is only the start. We look forward to building on our strong union culture to ensure the University continues to meet the needs of student workers,” says Nadeem Mansour, a bargaining committee member and PhD candidate in the Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies.
This ten-week strike was the second strike SWC organized in 2021, following a Herculean “no vote” campaign in spring 2021, a first for higher education unionization. The second strike was made possible by the election of a union democracy slate of bargaining committee members and the passage of several reforms in SWC’s bylaws thereafter. These reforms ensured that bargaining strategy is democratically informed by rank-and-file union members.
“Union democracy was critical to building a strong strike. At every step of the way, rank-and-file members contributed to bargaining strategy through working groups, and every decision was made in general body meetings where hundreds of people voted on next steps. It is through empowering rank-and-file members that we can build a bottom-up collective struggle that transforms our workplace and truly takes power back from the boss,” says Joanna Lee, a PhD student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures who has been active in rank-and-file organizing for several years.
According to SWC’s bylaws, reaching a tentative agreement triggers an automatic 15-day discussion period and a one-week ratification period. Last spring, the bargaining committee recommended a tentative agreement which was rejected. Union members say that they are looking forward to ratifying the current tentative agreement and smoothing the return to the spring semester beginning on January 17. Some details of compensation for make-up work are still being determined. Union organizers note that members are ready to reject the tentative agreement or return to strike if the University does not offer sufficient compensation for make-up work for all striking members.
The ratification period will end and results will be announced on January 28.
Email sent to students from Provost Mary C. Boyce on January 7, 2022, at 2:25 pm:
Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,
I am very pleased to announce that last night, the University and the Student Workers of Columbia-UAW reached a Tentative Agreement on a four-year labor contract. The Union has informed the University that its strike ended today at noon.
There is no doubt that this has been a challenging period for the University, yet all who were involved in collective bargaining shared the common goal of creating a stronger Columbia for those who teach and learn, conduct research, discover and innovate, work and study here. We are proud of this agreement, which would make Columbia a leader in higher education on a long list of issues affecting student employees, and we look forward to sharing more details in the coming days.
The next step in the process is a vote on ratification of the Tentative Agreement by the SWC-UAW membership, a process that will take three weeks.
I am optimistic that when the new academic term begins on January 18, Columbia will fully return to the normal rhythm of academic life, and to the pursuit of intellectual accomplishment and personal fulfillment that brings each of us to this great University.
Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
CU on strike via Charlie Bonkowsky