Less than 24 hours before CPW was set to begin its strike, the union announced it had ratified a new, satisfactory contract with the University.

On October 31, the Columbia Postdoctoral Workers union (CPW-UAW 4100) announced the ratification of a new contract with the University. The ratification comes less than 24 hours before the union’s planned strike would have commenced, and six months after CPW began bargaining sessions with the University. Passing with the support of 89.4% of the 891 postdoctoral and associate research scientists, scholars, and fellows who voted (84% of CPW’s total members), the contract secured up to a 24% increase in total compensation, as well as new protections and benefits in areas including childcare, visas, and new hire relocation. 

The contract will remain in effect through June 30th, 2026. The University’s proposed contracts had a five-year term as recently as the October 5 bargaining sessions. However, CPW called this “an attempt to delay future improvements,” and negotiated to lower the term to three years.

CPW’s original set of demands included an annual minimum salary of $72,000 for postdoctoral workers and $83,648 for associate research scientists. The new contract settled on a minimum of $70,000 per year for postdocs and $77,000 per year for ARSs. CPW also attained a one-time salary increase for current workers of $1,000 per year of service. All workers, including new hires, will also receive an annual 3% minimum salary increase, which exactly meets one of the original proposals.

The contract also secured a $5,000 in a childcare FSA account per family with children under six. This falls short of CPW’s initial proposal of a $5,500 sum per year per child under thirteen. During a bargaining session on October 5, the University declined CPW’s proposal to raise the age eligibility and change the stipend structure to per-child—rather than per-family—support, but did offer to raise the benefit from $4,000 to $5,000 per family, which was accepted by CPW.

Additionally, the university agreed to establish a $500,000 “hardship fund” for the length of the contract period, effective January 2024. The fund will cover unexpected medical costs for workers and their dependents, with up to $5,000 reimbursements per employee per year. An early version of the fund was first proposed by the University at a May 5 bargaining session, with $150,000 across five years for all workers. Increases in this hardship fund were part of several previous negotiations, including the most recent increase to $500,000 across three years at the October 16 bargaining session

The Union withdrew their initial proposal of a housing stipend after “the absolute rejection” of the stipend by Columbia, according to their proposal tracker. However, the new contract does include a one-time relocation payment of $1,500 to assist with the transition to Columbia, as well as a one-time ratification bonus of $1,200 for all workers.

The status of postdoctoral workers who are funded by fellowships also saw a crucial change. Previously, all fellows were classified as independent contractors, which resulted in a loss of benefits. Now, CPW can challenge that status, unless it is mandated by a fellow’s funding agency. The new contract also requires that the University pay $3,500 a year for employees who have been at Columbia for more than two years and whose agency requires contractor status.

Significantly, the new contract includes an extension of CPW’s previous grievance and arbitration processes, creating a new power-based harassment policy that includes neutral third-party arbitration. Early negotiations centered around these protections, and CPW reached a tentative agreement on the policy with the University in June 2023 .

A member of CPW’s bargaining committee told Bwog they plan to continue working for a per-child benefit and a housing stipend off the bargaining table. However, they also said that members of the union are satisfied with the contract, and feel that it is the best they could get without striking; many workers will see a 20% raise in their salary, and several key benefits were secured. 

“This contract is an important win for our union,” CPW said in a statement on its social media, “containing notable gains in compensation, rights, and protections for postdocs and associate research scientists at Columbia… [We will continue] using its new tools to protect and serve our workers—as well as to continue the ongoing fight for fair working conditions for all academic workers!” 

The University said in a statement following the ratification that “postdoctoral researchers and associate research scientists are integral to the University’s academic and research mission, and we look forward to continuing to build upon our important relationship with them.”

Campus via Bwog Staff