Update: Student Workers of Columbia-UAW Negotiations

November 01, 2021

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

I write to update you further on ongoing negotiations with our graduate student workers. I believe I speak for many members of the Columbia faculty and administration in saying that we have no higher priority than restoring a normal academic environment after one of the most trying and disruptive periods in Columbia’s long history. Just as we are committed to providing the best possible learning experience for our undergraduates, we value graduate education and research as fundamental pillars of this institution.

As I have stated previously, our graduate students are central to the academic life of this institution. Our doctoral students represent the top emerging talent in their fields. A doctoral student typically spends five to seven years in their respective program. During some semesters of their course of study, they are fully immersed in their coursework and research, and in some semesters are “on appointment” for not more than 20 hours per week and have a dual role as students and as workers. Whether students are on appointment or otherwise, we have a consistent record of supporting and enhancing the doctoral experience, and we remain committed to further enhancements, including through our ongoing negotiations with the Student Workers of Columbia-UAW.

The SWC-UAW formed a new bargaining team following the narrow defeat of the Tentative Agreement this past spring. Bargaining sessions restarted in September, and we are trading proposals on a range of benefits for doctoral students, as well as in key areas, for groups of undergraduate and Master’s students.

As you may be aware, these talks are progressing more slowly than either side would like and we face the very real possibility of a strike starting on Wednesday. I believe that a strike is unnecessary and avoidable, and that the priority right now should be to allow negotiations to play out.

Our most recent proposals have further enhanced elements of the Tentative Agreement; these new proposals together with the prior offers would provide many improvements in compensation, benefits, policies related to non-discrimination and harassment, and other areas, and would include:

  • Compensation:
    • Minimum compensation for doctoral students of $42,766 for PhD students on 12-month appointments and $32,074 for students on 9-month appointments, with 3% annual increases (with ongoing phase-in of higher percentage increases in the Schools of Social Work and of Public Health).
    • Immediate compensation increases of no less than 5% for undergraduates and Master’s students who hold appointments, increasing annually by 3%.
    • Hourly wage increases to $19, going up to $21 per hour after three years, for other students performing research and instructional services.
  • Non-Discrimination and Harassment: Significant changes to University EOAA policies and procedures that would strengthen the handling of discrimination and harassment grievances, including the opportunity to appeal an EOAA determination to a trained and independent outside decision-maker.
  • Up to one semester’s funding for PhD students in situations where a change of advisors is determined to be necessary, to support the student in identifying a new advisor.
  • Child Care: Doubling of the annual child care subsidy to $4,000 for children not yet in kindergarten, and raising the eligibility age to six.
  • A support fund for reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision expenses incurred by student employees and their dependents. 

If the SWC-UAW negotiators believe the bargaining status quo is ineffective, we urge the union to consider the appointment of a federal mediator, a customary alternative designed to energize negotiations when bargaining has stalled.

I would also like to emphasize the University’s commitment to ensure that all Columbia students continue to make academic progress throughout the fall term. Given the potential disruption that a strike may cause, the contingency planning that has been taking place across the University is critically important. The Provost’s Office will continue to support each school, their plans to ensure continuity of their curriculum, and the adjustments that may be necessary should a strike occur.

Our goal is not merely the successful resolution of these negotiations with the SWC-UAW; we want to see all of our students thrive while they are here. This goal takes a variety of forms. One of them, which emerged out of prior discussions with the union, has been the creation of an Anti-Bullying Working Group, which is moving forward on a matter of intense importance across the Columbia community. This initiative falls outside of the collective bargaining framework but is one of the many ways in which we are working to improve the student experience at Columbia.


Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering