Update on Mediation with Student Workers of Columbia-UAW

December 06, 2021

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

I am writing to update you on developments related to ongoing negotiations between the University and Student Workers of Columbia-UAW, as well as on the SWC-UAW strike.

We are now engaged in mediation with our student workers, with the assistance of the mediator nominated by SWC-UAW. On Wednesday, we put forward a proposal on arbitration that defined a range of situations where grievances may be brought before a third party. This was accompanied by a proposal on recognition, which defines the set of students included in the bargaining unit. Additionally, during more than ten hours of mediation on Friday and Sunday we offered further enhancements on arbitration and on child care. Our proposal would now make arbitration available on grounds that go far beyond the remedies available in the contract approved overwhelmingly last week by Harvard’s graduate student union. Our proposal on the scope of the bargaining unit is also significantly more expansive than the Harvard union’s bargaining unit.

During these sessions, the Union has not offered counterproposals that address the substance of these provisions. Indeed, since the resumption of negotiations in September, SWC-UAW has not moved significantly on any of the core issues on the table. We are still waiting for the Union to join us in working to close the gap between our positions.

We are eager to continue negotiating around the economic package that we have offered, which addresses benefits such as stipends, health care, and child care. The University has already offered increases to stipends for PhD students in all of their fellowship years, whether they are teaching or not. We have offered increases in summer stipends, and for student workers who are paid hourly, we have offered steady, yearly increases to the pay rate. We also have offered generous increases to support funds available to students to cover out-of-pocket health costs, along with additional child care benefits.

All of these enhancements would take effect immediately upon ratification, and cover all PhD students across campus as well as a broad range of master’s and undergraduate students. Details of our current proposal are available online.

Given that the significant majority of the SWC-UAW members continue to carry out their teaching and research work and are not on strike, we believe that a potential agreement is within reach. While we are committed to a constructive mediation process with the goal of reaching agreement as soon as possible, it is possible that the strike, now five weeks old, may extend through the end of the fall term. Most classes at Columbia continue uninterrupted by the strike. However, we recognize the impact of the strike on the educational experience of some of our students, particularly those course sections where the instructor is a doctoral candidate, as is the case with a number of sections in the undergraduate curriculum. We must take action to ensure that these students can advance their education in the least intrusive manner possible. In light of the disruption of COVID, it is deeply unfair that some of our students—and particularly those who are new to our campus community—have had their coursework interrupted. 

The University is committed to ensuring that our students receive the outstanding education they came to Columbia to pursue. I am working diligently with our deans to deliver on that vital promise. To those students who have a course led by an instructor of record who is striking, their respective schools will be providing a menu of options that are responsive to their needs in content and timing. Schools will be communicating about this directly with the students impacted.

I encourage everyone to read our FAQs, which cover a broad range of issues: from student compensation and cost of living, to mediation and bargaining session summaries.  We will continue to update you as negotiations unfold.


Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering