Opinion Graphic

Background: 

On Feb. 25, 2019, the Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW Local 2110 (GWC) began bargaining for their first contract with Columbia University. On March 15, 2021 the workers went on strike to show the university administration that their labor rights — such as the right to bargain and the right to a fair contract — must be taken seriously.

GWC went on a one-week strike in 2018 after Columbia University attempted to use the Trump-National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to deny the graduate workers’ rights to organize. The university finally recognized the union and began bargaining in February 2019 after GWC threatened to strike again.

After two years, the university is still moving too slowly towards a contract with fair terms that correspond to the amount of financial and cultural value that graduate workers provide to the university. Columbia University’s graduate workers consistently produce high-level research that supports grant applications and burnishes the university’s reputation, and yet they are paid less than a living wage and provided inadequate health care. To force Columbia’s administration to the table to negotiate a fair contract in a timely manner, the members of GWC have voted overwhelmingly to strike.

Here is a brief summarization of GWC’s Message to the Columbia administration:

  • Respect the work graduate workers provide to Columbia.

  • Direct the university’s bargaining committee to reach a fair and equitable contract immediately. 

  • Fair contracts enhance their employees’ ability to focus on quality teaching and research, enable Columbia to recruit the best and brightest from across the globe and continue to build Columbia’s reputation as a leader in innovation, growing our city and state economy.

  • Agree to real recourse through arbitration for harassment, discrimination and bullying; just compensation; and adequate health care.

Statement of Support and Solidarity from NCSU Grad Workers, UE150:

We, the NC State University Graduate Workers of UE Local 150, stand in solidarity with the GWC in their efforts to get a fair first contract. We urge Columbia University to put proposals on the table that materially support and uplift student workers who do so much of what makes the university run.

GWC members have shown majority support again and again for a contract including such proposals. Following the landmark 2016 Columbia decision by the NLRB that granted collective bargaining rights to tens of thousands of graduate student employees at private universities, eight private universities have reached fair agreements with their research and teaching assistant unions. Columbia can and should do the same.

Members of GWC are fighting for adequate protections for graduate workers to make Columbia a more inclusive place. We stand with GWC in their effort to build a more just campus, and urge Columbia University’s administration to agree to a fair contract that recognizes masters and undergraduate student workers as certified by the NLRB, provides real recourse for harassment and discrimination, protects international student workers and improves the status quo with regard to compensation and health care benefits. We stand in solidarity as they are ready to strike to win on these important issues. 

As fellow graduate workers, we understand and recognize the importance of workers’ rights and the injustice of touting the products of our labor for the university’s reputation while providing wages and benefits inadequate to meet our material needs. As fellow union members, we support direct actions taken by GWC members to improve their lives and workplaces, which is why we call on everyone to respect the picket line and boycott all events held on and off campus and via Columbia’s Zoom. 

We also encourage everyone who is able to donate to the strike fund to do so in solidarity with striking workers, whose wages are being withheld in a reprehensible move to quash and silence Columbia Academic Student Workers’ calls for the university to agree to a fair first contract.

When workers win anywhere, workers win everywhere. A successful strike and first contract agreement at Columbia shows that unionization can protect workers’ rights and bring about positive, material changes in workers lives. We are fighting for the same workplace improvements at NC State, where the minimum graduate worker pay is set at a fraction of the federal poverty rate and forces some graduate workers to secretly work second and third jobs to feed and house themselves and their families. We are also fighting for better health coverage, so workers can seek medical care before their circumstances turn dire, and for better workplace conditions and protections. All workers should be able to stand up for themselves and others in toxic work environments without fear of retaliation, which is why we wholeheartedly support GWC’s strike.

In solidarity,

North Carolina State University Graduate Workers, Chapter of UE Local 150