Update on Student Workers of Columbia-UAW Negotiations

December 23, 2021

Dear fellow members of the Columbia community,

I write to update you on the status of negotiations with the Student Workers of Columbia-UAW. Earlier today, the University presented a best and final comprehensive proposal offering major enhancements to arbitration, compensation, and benefits.

We are proud of this proposal and believe it further distinguishes Columbia as a leader in advancing our PhD students as the next generation of scholars spanning a broad array of fields of inquiry. The current proposal provides compensation packages that are among the most generous across the American university system, with an additional investment of over $125 million in student workers over the life of the contract. It also meets a core demand of the SWC-UAW on neutral third-party arbitration. We believe this proposal offers the basis for an agreement that represents a deep commitment to our student employees in their dual roles as students and employees.

Key components of the new proposal include:


The University’s proposal on non-discrimination and harassment meets a central concern of the Union. It provides access to arbitration on the same terms as those agreed to in the contract with the Columbia Postdoctoral Workers-UAW ratified in July 2020. We have been told for many months that obtaining this same treatment for the Union is the SWC’s central demand. The proposal also goes beyond the postdoc agreement in providing an option for mediation. And the University has committed to modify its EOAA process to ensure that appeals of EOAA determinations are considered by an independent reviewer, which was an innovative feature of last spring’s tentative agreement.

Annual Compensation

PhD students currently on a 12-month appointment would receive $44,500 this academic year, including a one-time $500 payment if the contract is ratified by December 31, 2021. This is an immediate increase of over 7% from the current $41,520 stipend, and would be more than $45,000 starting on July 1.

PhD students currently on a 9-month appointment would receive $39,000 this academic year (including the one-time $500 payment if ratified by December 31), an immediate increase of 11% from the current $35,140 stipend including summer stipend. It would rise to over $39,900 on September 1.

These figures cover all schools with appointed PhD students.

Stipends for PhD students would grow at an annual rate of 3%, and would include a pay supplement of 2% for each semester they are on appointment, including this semester.

Summer stipends, which are an important part of support for PhD students on 9-month appointments in their guaranteed funded years, would increase to $5,500 (from the current $4,000) for summer 2022, rising to $6,000 in 2023, with annual increases each year after.

Hourly Rates

The new minimum rate for hourly student employees who perform instructional and/or research work will be $21 per hour (an increase from the current $15 minimum hourly rate), starting January 17, 2022, rising annually and reaching $23 per hour in August 2025.

The University intends to compensate all hourly student workers who perform instructional and/or research work, and who are not part of the bargaining unit, at the same minimum hourly rates.

One-Time Payment

If the agreement is ratified by December 31, PhD students on appointment in fall 2021 will receive a lump sum payment of $500. Master’s and undergraduate students on appointment in fall 2021 will receive a lump sum payment of $250.


Dental Benefits: The University enhanced its previous offer so that funded PhD students may enroll themselves and eligible dependents in the Emblem Preferred Dental Plan and the University will pay 75% of the monthly premium regardless of whether the student is on appointment or not. Covered students can also, at their election, use equivalent University funds for the Aetna PPO plan beginning next August.

Child Care Benefits: The University enhanced its prior offer, with an initial annual child care subsidy of $4,500, rising over time to $5,500, for each child of funded PhD students – a significant increase over the current child care benefit of $2,000.

Health Care Benefits: The University already covers the health care premium of funded PhD students and their dependents. It has also increased its proposal to establish a fund to reimburse out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision expenses of student employees that are not covered by insurance. The fund will provide $300,000 in the current year, rising by $50,000 next year, and then $25,000 per year thereafter; and to reimburse out-of-pocket medical, dental, and vision expenses of the dependents of student employees, a separate fund will provide $150,000 in its first year, increasing by $25,000 per year through the fourth year of the contract.


On recognition – the definition of who the members of the bargaining unit are – the University enhanced its proposal so as to bring many more students into the unit. All casual hourly workers who are employed providing instructional services for an average of 15 hours a week over a semester, or who have provided more than 250 hours total, are part of the bargaining unit, as are all PhD students as well as master’s and undergraduate students on appointment.

All of these components stand in addition to existing proposals on issues ranging from compensation increases for master’s and undergraduate students on appointment to transitional funding for students seeking new advisors. Additional information and details on Columbia’s overall proposal are available online.

This final proposal, representing Columbia’s most expansive offer, meets the central concerns of the Union on arbitration and offers substantial new economic benefits. It should be put before student employees so that all can vote on it. Doing so offers the promise of bringing this longstanding negotiation to a resolution that benefits both student workers and the University. 


Mary C. Boyce
Professor of Mechanical Engineering