Update on Student Unionization

September 17, 2021

Dear Colleagues:

With the start of the fall term, I again want to thank you for your incredible efforts in ensuring the safe and smooth return to campus that is now unfolding. To see our students once again in our classrooms and labs is a moving experience, and we should all be proud of the hard work it took to arrive at this moment.

I now want to update you on our student union negotiations. Our graduate students are central to the life of this institution. Negotiations, now in their second iteration, have highlighted the dual roles they hold on campus: as students and as workers. With the narrow defeat of the Tentative Agreement reached in April, we have recommenced bargaining with the Student Workers of Columbia-UAW, formerly the GWC-UAW. As we address the concerns of students in their role as workers, we welcome the opportunity to engage the newly constituted SWC-UAW bargaining committee.

As we continue negotiations, it is imperative not to lose sight of the strong foundation that was created over the course of the two years of bargaining that have already transpired. The Tentative Agreement set forth detailed resolutions, fully ready for implementation, on the following subjects of collective bargaining: compensation, nondiscrimination, health/dental benefits, child care, international student employees, leaves of absence, vacation/holidays/personal days, appointments and discipline and discharge, union dues, and union activity and access. These provisions, described in detail on our student unionization website, would have greatly enhanced the graduate experience at Columbia. Some of these benefits, if enacted, would have become among the most generous in higher education.

The Tentative Agreement won the support of 47 percent of eligible graduate students who voted. We believe, along with the 970 graduate students who favored the deal, that the terms were fair. But that view narrowly failed, and so we return to bargaining.

The union is currently conducting a strike authorization vote, and voting closes on September 27. An affirmative vote by the union membership does not initiate a strike; rather, it authorizes the bargaining committee to call a strike at any time if it decides to do so.

We acknowledge the union’s right to strike, though we believe that remaining differences can be resolved through good-faith bargaining and that a strike will not be needed. If there is a strike, our priority is meeting the educational needs of our students and maintaining the continuity of our academic programs. Our schools and departments are undertaking contingency planning to mitigate the impact of a potential strike and to ensure that our students are able to continue their coursework and academic progress if one occurs.

We reaffirm our desire to reach a fair contract. We have demonstrated our capacity for compromise and our commitment to reaching an agreement. Working together with SWC-UAW leaders, we believe we can bring this longstanding negotiation to a resolution that benefits both graduate student workers and the University.


Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering