Columbia University graduate workers remain unafraid.
This week marks the group’s sixth week of its strike against the university after the university threatened them with losing their current gigs and replacing them leading up to the end of the school year.
Student Workers of Columbia-UAW 2110 officially went on strike on Nov. 4 calling for better wages, a neutral third-party arbitrator, and a comprehensive health care plan with vision and dental coverage. Specifically, they want $26 an hour minimum wage with a yearly increase by $1.50 along with dental and health coverage.
Eduardo Vergara, PhD candidate, department of Latin American and Iberian cultures, told the AmNews recently, “I would have found a job there and tried to continue with my dissertation. What about the next few years? No idea.”
Tamara Heche, PhD candidate, department of Latin American and Iberian cultures, added that “these threats are even more concerning and damaging for the academic community as a whole.”
Graduate workers have complained about working overtime to complete work and feel like they’re being used as cheap labor for the Ivy League institution.
Last week, the AmNews obtained an email that Columbia University Vice President of Human Resources Dan Driscoll sent to student workers telling them that the university intended to permanently replace their labor post-Dec. 10.
When the strike began in November, graduate workers pointed to the university’s unwillingness to negotiate certain issues. It rendered bargaining useless in their eyes.
In November, in a letter to members of the Columbia University community, Mary C. Boyce, provost and professor of mechanical engineering, stated that the workers were offered what they thought was a fair deal.
“As you may be aware, these talks are progressing more slowly than either side would like and we face the very real possibility of a strike…,” wrote Boyce. “I believe that a strike is unnecessary and avoidable, and that the priority right now should be to allow negotiations to play out.”
According to the university, they offered a $42,766 salary for PhD students on 12-month appointments, $32,074 for students on 9-month appointments with 3%. For graduate students, they offered an immediate compensation increase of 5% with a 3% increase and a minimum increase of $21 an hour after three years. The deal also included the doubling of the school’s annual childcare subsidy and a support fund for reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Last week, Columbia University Director of Media Relations Caroline Adelman stated: “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…”
University officials didn’t respond to requests for comment this week.
But graduate students have other organizations on their side. In an emailed statement, State Senators Jabari Brisport and Julia Salazar, New York City Council Member Tiffany Cabán, the New York City Democratic Socialists along with a slew of New York State Assembly Members, called on the school to end its threat against its graduate workers.
“Low wages and inadequate healthcare have long acted as barriers which keep working class students, students of color, and many others from pursuing graduate education,” read the statement. “Columbia, which has elsewhere expressed a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion should act on this opportunity to make graduate education accessible to students from a variety of backgrounds, rather than maintaining the de facto exclusion which is the result of compensation that falls far below the cost of living and the failure to provide insurance which meets basic needs, such as dental care.”