Time to Reach Agreement

December 26, 2021

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

For weeks, the Student Workers of Columbia-UAW claimed that arbitration was their principal concern, the one without which they would not agree to a settlement. Now that the University has agreed to arbitration, the Union has identified a different issue in its place as a requirement for any agreement: unit recognition. Columbia’s position on recognition is expansive and goes beyond what is required by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). It should not be invoked as a reason to prevent an agreement at this late stage.

The package as a whole is fair and comprehensive and is our best and final offer. It includes major movement by the University on arbitration, economics, union security, and many other issues. These terms collectively represent an entirely new standard for higher education.

On recognition, which refers to who is to be a member of the bargaining unit, Columbia’s proposal is beyond what is required and is extraordinarily broad by any fair standard. It includes not only all students on appointment, whether PhD, Master’s, or undergraduates, but also Master’s and undergraduate students on the casual payroll who provide instructional services, provided they work at least an average of 15 hours a week over the course of the semester or after providing 250 hours of instructional services. Anyone who doubts the breadth of that definition should compare it to the recognition provision in the NYU contract, which covers only graduate students who teach.

Columbia’s willingness to agree to more than was required by the NLRB on recognition was part of an overall package we put forth that included our concession on union security, which was a major ask by the Union – a concession that Harvard, which insisted on an “open shop,” refused to make to its union. SWC-UAW’s current campaign against our recognition position is an attempt to get the quid without the quo.

While the Union has focused on “recognition” as a vehicle to expand union membership, we believe it is important to underscore who gets benefits and protections under the proposal we put forth, even for those who fall below the 15 hours. Our comprehensive offer includes a commitment to raise the hourly rate for all student employees who provide instructional or research services to a minimum of $21. That new rate will apply whether or not these students work sufficient hours to be considered members of the bargaining unit. On harassment and discrimination, the situation is the same. Throughout the negotiations, we have heard repeatedly that students need an opportunity to appeal EOAA decisions to an independent third party, lest the University be the judge in its own case. It’s an important and innovative feature of the current package that it provides for just that – an opportunity to appeal to an independent, external decision-maker. Columbia has committed to make that opportunity available to all students, whether or not they are members of the bargaining unit, upon ratification of the agreement.

Columbia’s recognition language adheres to a stipulation in the NLRB proceeding, signed by both parties in November 2016 and filed with the NLRB, that determined who would be eligible to vote on whether there should be a union. That stipulation stated that students on the casual payroll would be eligible to vote only if they average 15 hours of work per week.

From the outset, SWC-UAW’s strike has sought to disrupt the education of students whose Columbia experience is not directly affected by the contract being negotiated. Now, the Union maintains the strike must continue for the principle that casual workers, who had no choice because they were not allowed by the NLRB to vote on whether there was to be a union, must be part of the bargaining unit. That position flies in the face of the democratic principles that underlie our labor laws.

With the proposal on the table, the University is now a leader in higher education on the issues that have been the core of our dialogue with SWC-UAW for years, importantly on economics and on non-economic issues like arbitration. It is time for SWC-UAW to acknowledge the tremendous gains we have made together, to reach agreement, and to end the strike.


Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering