The Student Governing Board released a statement Thursday encouraging its member groups to stop reserving space at the Faculty House to support the cause of the Faculty House workers, who have been negotiating their contracts with administrators since last March.
"It is our mission to maintain and promote an atmosphere where students, workers, and faculty can all come together to create the dynamic Community that makes Columbia great. Unfortunately, the Faculty House fails to live up to that ideal," the statement read. "We discourage our groups from using the Faculty House for any events until the dispute is settled, and we will hold no SGB Executive Board events there as well."
SGB Chair David Fine, CC ’13, said his board decided to take action after seeing the rally organized by the Student-Worker Solidarity club on Feb. 8.SGB represents and serves the needs of more than 100 political, religious, activist, or humanitarian student groups. The board approved the statement almost unanimously, with only one member voting against.
SWS members have been meeting with Faculty House workers and Labor Relations administrators since the beginning of December to discuss what they consider unfair contracts.
Fine said the group applied for recognition as an “individual coalition” before its protest last Friday—a step that groups can take if they are not yet recognized officially by SGB but would like help organizing an event.
This served as a temporary group recognition, Fine said, and brought the issue to SGB’s focus.
“The reason why the board felt the need to do this is that we consider Faculty House part of the Columbia community and we are part of the Columbia community, and what’s going on there—the labor issues—do not align with the values that we believe Columbia tries to uphold,” Fine said.
Jane Brennan, CC ’14 and a member of SWS, said she was glad to hear that SGB would be supporting the workers’ cause.
“The biggest problem with Faculty House right now is that the tip is 22 percent but it doesn’t go to the workers,” she said. “When Columbia groups reserve space, they’re not dealing with the money themselves. If a professor eats at the faculty house, they can choose to give the tip in cash, but the students can’t do that.”
Fine said he doesn’t know how many student groups use space in the Faculty House, but he thinks the statement serves a purpose symbolically as well as logistically.
“I hope it will create momentum around trying to solve these labor issues,” he said. “I think it’s bad for the community to be in a protracted labor dispute, and some of the allegations that the workers have made are pretty disturbing.”
Another issue with the Faculty House, Fine said, is its high cost. He added that students “basically have to order catering from them or you get another penalty.” According to last year’s Faculty House menu, coffee service for an event costs $7.50 per person.
“I understand it’s one of the nicer venues at Columbia,” he said. “But the fact that it’s so expensive and the fact that they have these labor issues just doesn’t look good. A place that costs so much shouldn’t have trouble treating its employees well.”
The Faculty House contract negotiations can last one more month before the workers’ health insurance runs out, Brennan said, which would create a “more drastic situation.”
Right now, SWS hopes this support from SGB will put more pressure on the University.
“This shows that this cause isn’t just some leftist, anthropology department movement, but this is something that all Columbia students can care about,” George Joseph, CC ’16 and a SWS member, said.
Brennan said that if negotiations continue, there could be a call for a larger boycott, but added that SWS was not at that point yet.
Fine said that SGB specifically avoided taking more permanent or forceful action such as a boycott, emphasizing that the statement is a recommendation and not a change in policy.
“We understand, we’re sympathetic to Faculty House and their concerns, but this is a matter of upholding the spirit of the Columbia community and making sure people are treated fairly,” Fine said.
An earlier version of this story identified David Fine as the president of SGB. He is in fact the chair of SGB. Spectator regrets the error.