Article Image
Yan Cong / Staff Photographer

Local 2110 workers and their allies rally at 120th Street and Broadway on March 7.

Columbia and United Auto Workers Local 2110 reached a tentative agreement on a new contract Tuesday afternoon, union president Maida Rosenstein told Spectator. Although the details of the deal are not yet public, the approximately 700 union members will discuss and vote on the deal on Thursday. Negotiations between administrators and Local 2110, which represents University clerical employees, resumed Thursday, after several previous attempts failed to yield a contract to replace the one which expired on Jan. 31. The discussions focused largely on proposed cuts to workers' tuition subsidies, health care benefits, and pension payments, Rosenstein said—issues that could lead to a strike if members do not approve the new contract. Rosenstein gave some of the credit for the settlement to faculty and student support, which has increased substantially in the past few weeks. "I am strongly and firmly convinced that we would not be where we are without the community support," she said. Students and faculty Both students and faculty members started online petitions in support of the union. The student petition had more than 100 signatures as of Monday morning, and the faculty petition has more than 80. Rosenstein described history professor Eric Foner, who wrote the faculty petition, as a "tremendous supporter of labor." Foner said that he thought it would be a good idea for faculty to express their views to the administration—professors sent the petition to University President Lee Bollinger, Senior Executive Vice President Robert Kasdin, and Provost John Coatsworth. "The grounds for a fair and equitable settlement exist," Foner said, adding that a strike would be "extremely disruptive." Student support for the union has been largely decentralized. Members of the Columbia University Democrats and the International Socialist Organization have spoken with union representatives, as have some students who have been involved with Occupy Wall Street. Dylan Glendinning, CC '14 and the lead activist for the CU Democrats, said that students have been working "to direct not necessarily anger, but questioning at the administration." Glendinning and other students released the online petition last week, and he said that it was only the beginning of student efforts to raise awareness of the issues facing Local 2110. Students were planning to publicize those issues by tabling on Low Plaza and fliering this week, although it is unclear whether this will happen, given the tentative agreement. ISO member Yoni Golijov, CC '12, who has been in touch with union leaders, stressed the importance of awareness. "I want to help get students involved in this and help the people who work for the union get a fair wage," Golijov said. "God knows they deserve it." Both Glendinning and Golijov said that they have been waiting for direction from union leaders before taking any significant action. Mary Clinton, a union representative who has been speaking with students, said that "it's important for students to understand that they play a role in this." "They have opportunities to get involved and be a part of it," she said. Getting perspective Members of the CU Democrats have been talking with union leaders since November, when a few of them happened to run into a member of the New York City Central Labor Council in Ohio during the group's annual campaign trip. Since that time, club leaders have spoken with council president Vincent Alvarez, council chief of staff Brendan Griffith, and representatives from Local 2110. "We met with them and we had to learn a lot because we didn't necessarily know about all of these issues," Glendinning said. Even though a tentative agreement has now been reached, it had seemed for several months that a strike was a distinct possibility. The union is composed of workers in student financial services, housing, health services, financial aid, academic departments, and administrative offices across the Univeristy, and a strike could lead to serious problems on campus. Local 2110 vice president Booker Washington warned that any possible strike "would have a rippling effect across campus." Washington has worked at Columbia for over 38 years and is currently a senior student services representative in Student Financial Services. Marybeth Seitz-Brown, CC '14 and a member of the CU Democrats, said that if there was a strike, students would "be shocked as to how much these people affect their lives." Foner remembers Local 2110's last strike, in 1997. He, along with some other faculty members, held class off campus—sometimes in private apartments, coffee shops, or parks—in order to honor the picket line. Facing challenges Prior to the tentative agreement on Tuesday, union leaders, as well as students, were not hopeful that an agreement would be reached. Washington said that the University was trying "to nickel and dime" workers by proposing large cuts to their benefits. History professor Mae Ngai signed the faculty petition and was one of the professors very involved in internal discussions about the negotiations. She said that the proposed cuts were particularly significant because many clerical workers take positions at the University specifically for the benefits, as the positions pay relatively little compared to similar private-sector jobs. Ngai, who used to work at a sister branch of UAW, said she was "quite disturbed" at the University's original bargaining position. She added that she would hold classes off campus if a strike were to occur. Referring to the tentative agreement, Golijov said that he's "of course very excited that Columbia finally realized that what they're doing is wrong." He added, though, that these workers are still among the lowest paid at the University. Latin American and Iberian cultures professor Marc Hertzman, who signed the faculty petition, said that Columbia should serve as a "good social citizen." "The University has a responsibility to not only those who are making the most, but to everyone is who is part of the community," he said. Told of the tentative agreement, Foner said he was "delighted" that the union and the administration had reached an agreement. "We contributed," he said. Golijov said that the threat of a strike likely caused the University to revaluate its bargaining position. "It just shows the power that workers here actually have," he said. "They make the school run and the Columbia administrators know that." margaret.mattes@columbiaspectator.com

UAW Local 2110 union Labor
ADVERTISEMENT
Newsletter