On February 25, 2019, from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. in Studebaker Building Room 469, we, the GWC-UAW Bargaining Committee, and our fellow graduate workers will sit down and begin to bargain across the table from the Columbia administration and its legal representatives from Proskauer Rose.
Arriving at this point has taken a historic effort. Throughout this process, GWC has benefited from the solidarity of Local 2110 and the friendship of graduate worker unions across the nation. To those undergraduates, professors, and members of the Columbia community who have shown solidarity for GWC-UAW over the years, we extend a warm thank you.
Over the past few days, Columbia University and its representatives proposed holding negotiations on the first day of bargaining in the Studebaker Building on the Manhattanville campus, where 2110 and CPW-UAW are currently working to negotiate contracts. Columbia administrators rejected two options proposed by GWC-UAW to negotiate on or near the Morningside campus, where GWC-UAW wants to hold bargaining sessions in order to make sure that Columbia engages in fair and transparent negotiations.
After 17 years of fighting for a union, GWC-UAW has compelling reasons to want open, participatory contract negotiations.
As both fellow workers of GWC and observers know, the administration has delayed recognition of our union for years. In a two-pronged strategy, administrators have mounted a number of spurious objections to our unionization and advanced carefully decontextualized “enhancements” to our stipends and benefits. The purpose of these efforts was to undermine our union drive and our self-identification as workers.
Columbia’s strategy has failed: We have consistently demonstrated that academic workers at Columbia want both union representation and a fair contract. In November 2016, an overwhelming majority of graduate students voted to unionize. The administration filed objections, only to have the National Labor Relations Board overrule it each round.
The election of the current U.S. president in November 2016 also inspired a bit more bravado in Columbia’s administration. Bolstered by the new anti-labor composition of the NLRB, Columbia opted to withhold recognition of our union in violation of many standards of law and equity for two years. Meanwhile, the administration endlessly reiterated obnoxious claims like the assertion that unionization was being advanced by outside agitators.
These actions had consequences. In April 2018, our membership massively endorsed a strike authorization (over 90 percent of 1,968 counted ballots voted YES). Our one-week strike at the end of the spring 2018 semester showed Columbia that we intended to secure our rights. Our first strike benefited from the active solidarity of the Columbia community and the state of New York.
Last fall, Columbia University tried to bypass our autonomy as workers by seeking to negotiate a Framework Bargaining Agreement directly with UAW in the fall of 2018. Despite this, we showed that the University could not divide us through disingenuous efforts. In the future, GWC-UAW will hold Columbia to a key clause in the framework—the commitment to bargain in good faith—and we will be preparing to strike in April 2020 to do just that.
In preparation for bargaining over the past few months, our Organizing Committee has endorsed open bargaining guidelines designed to encourage membership oversight and active involvement in the negotiations process. Six new members—each committed to bargaining a fair and robust contract for all graduate workers—were elected to the Bargaining Committee at the start of February. Our membership also participated in decisions about aspects of our bargaining process via referendum vote. Finally, GWC organizers have been hard at work engaging membership to learn about what we should prioritize in contract negotiations.
Our struggle for dignity and respect as workers is not over. We invite all of our supporters to come to the front of Low Library at 12 p.m. on February 25, where we will rally alongside Local 2110 members. Following the rally, we encourage GWC members to join us in the bargaining room, Studebaker Room 469, at any time between 1:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., as we commence negotiations. Broad participation by workers at the start of contract negotiations will send a strong signal to the administration that GWC-UAW is a force to be taken seriously. We believe that a strong contract, the one we deserve, will be achieved through broad participation in a clear, fair, and open bargaining procedure, and we look forward to making history together alongside our unit.
GWC-UAW Bargaining Committee
The authors are members of the GWC-UAW Bargaining Committee. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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