Columbia grad students achieve parental leave and other victories

Stephon Johnson | 5/20/2016, 5:53 p.m.
Columbia University’s graduate students won a major victory last week.
Columbia University Wikipedia

Columbia University’s graduate students won a major victory last week.

In an email to Ph.D. candidates, Columbia University Provost John Coatsworth announced improvements in workplace benefits for the school’s graduate workers. Those improvements include parental leave, childcare subsidies and changes in fees. In addition, the dean of engineering announced the increased coverage of fees, which would provide parity across schools and programs.

Much of these changes are the result of Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW rallying, fighting and protesting for these rights.

“Provost Coatsworth not only announced much needed changes to policies, he also acknowledged that Ph.D. students are in fact workers that deserve basic benefits from the university,” said Olga Brudastova, a Ph.D. student and researcher in the Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics departments, in a statement. “By coming together across departments and schools, graduate workers are forcing the administration to make real changes that allow us to focus on teaching and researching. We will be even stronger when Columbia recognizes our union.”

GWC-UAW won two more years of fee waivers and health insurance for Ph.D. students in journalism earlier this year. Now, GWC waits for a reversal from the National Labor Relations Board to recognize Columbia graduate workers as university employees (hoping to overturn a decision from the decade before). Reversing the decision could lead to graduate workers around the country looking to form unions.

“Graduate workers at Columbia and all across the country are winning recognition for their work and their rights because they are coming together and forming unions,” stated Julie Kushner, the director of UAW Regional 9A. “With the expected reversal of the Brown decision, graduate workers at private universities will finally have the opportunity to win needed improvements that their colleagues at public universities, as well as at New York University, have secured through their unions.”

“While New York just passed a paid parental leave law for part-time and full-time workers in the state, Columbia’s administration is finally assuring that graduate workers will not be penalized for spending time with newborns,” added Chandler Walker, a fifth-year graduate worker in the Integrated Program in Cellular Molecular and Biomedical Studies, in a statement. “Graduate workers are glad the administration is making changes, but we need the university to stop fighting against our rights as workers. Recognizing our union would allow all of us to work together—the administration, faculty and graduate workers—to make Columbia the strongest university possible.”