Columbia University graduate students are still fighting with the university and both parties have accused each other of lying during a now month-plus strike.
Student Workers of Columbia (SWC-UAW 2110) have been on strike since the beginning of November calling for better wages and benefits.
In an email obtained by the AmNews, Columbia University Vice President of Human Resources Dan Driscoll sent a message to every student worker telling them that the university intended to permanently replace their labor should they strike one more week.
The AmNews was also sent a confirmed email from Daniel Driscoll, vice president of Columbia University Human Resources, which could give them a bit of ammunition.
“We are writing to let you know we have begun the process, as is typical at this time of year, to prepare letters describing appointments and assignments for the spring term,” read the email. He also noted that “striking student officers who return to work after Dec. 10, 2021 will be appointed/assigned to suitable positions if available.”
Workers said that the timing is transparent. “Columbia is desperate to break our strike before finals,” read one email to the AmNews. “Most classes will end by Friday Dec. 10, the deadline they have given us to return to work or risk being fired.”
On Nov. 4, 3,000 members of Student Workers of Columbia-UAW 2110 went on strike. It was the second-largest active strike in the country behind the strike at John Deere (which ended two weeks later). Workers were asking for better wages, a neutral third-party arbitrator, and a comprehensive health care plan with vision and dental coverage.
The union said that they attended 80 bargaining sessions with the university and failed to reach a deal.
Eduardo Vergara, PhD candidate, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures, said that he would have to leave America if the university doesn’t meet their needs.
“Columbia is threatening to permanently replace us if we are still on strike by Dec. 10th,” said Vergara. “Although we might remain formally as students we might not receive any income at all, just as it has happened for the past six weeks since Columbia withheld our salaries and stipends. In such a case, my wife and I would be forced to go back to Chile both for migratory and economic reasons. I would have to find a job there and try to continue with my dissertation. What about the next years? No idea.”
According to the union, Columbia University pays graduate student workers $6,000-$19,000. SWC-UAW 2110 members used the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s cost-of-living calculator to prove that they’re not being paid a living wage.
The AmNews called Columbia University officials who gave us a message sent to the Columbia University community on Tuesday advising the populace to learn about the “rules and governing efforts to preserve academic continuity.”
“A recent message to the union bargaining committee explaining the University’s approach to spring appointments and teaching assignments was necessary to sustain the academic progress of our students, particularly undergraduates whose classes are disrupted, and also to ensure that students who are working receive their spring assignments on time,” read the email. “With respect to striking student workers who return to work after Dec. 10, schools will make every effort to provide them with suitable positions, as available.”
Graduate school workers have filed two unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board protesting a wage freeze, which they believed to be a retaliation to their rejection of a tentative agreement last spring, and a change to their compensation schedule. Employers are prohibited from permanently replacing ULP strikers, which Columbia graduate student workers are.
Another graduate student said that what happens on the 10th could put her in an academic pickle.
“We believe this is a disproportionate and damaging threat and is undoubtedly targeted to intimidate and retaliate against SWC strikers,” said Tamara Heche, PhD candidate, Department of Latin American and Iberian Cultures. “To be denied appointment would pose a significant threat to students’ continuation of the PhD––or at least would require one to go on leave for that semester, or even go into debt for an unreasonable amount of money.
“There are also unclear implications for international students, and, at a university with such a heavy presence of international students, these threats are even more concerning and damaging for the academic community as a whole,” concluded Heche.