Cora Bergantinos-Crespo – President
I joined Columbia in 2012 as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Genetics and Development, where I worked for seven years. Inspired by our graduate worker colleagues, I and other researchers began discussing unionization in 2015 to strengthen the voice of researchers in our workplaces and beyond. I have dedicated myself to this project since then. This has allowed me to discuss our aspirations and needs with hundreds of researchers across disciplines while building our collective power at Columbia, signing up a majority during our card drive, winning an overwhelming union election victory, and building the campaign for our historic first contract.
As the first postdoctoral union in NYC, and the first at a private university nationally, our Local has a historic role. We have gathered a diverse team of researchers committed to building an active and engaged Union based on collective leadership to ensure democracy, transparency and fair representation for all researchers. We have the opportunity to improve on unresolved issues from our first negotiations, to fight for strong protections against bullying in Academia, and along with other unions we can advocate for researchers’ interests nationally, like fair immigration policies and research funding. By strengthening links between researchers and the broader community we can build a better society for all.
Melissa McKenzie – Vice-president
As a Bargaining Committee member for the union and a co-founder of the postdoc parent meetups I have witnessed firsthand our collective power to generate change. I’m proud of the enormous improvements we’ve made in postdoctoral lives by organizing for and negotiating a very strong contract. If elected, I am committed to building on the progress we’ve made to advance our goal of making Columbia a more equitable and inclusive environment. We have assembled a fantastic team, all firmly dedicated to a collective leadership model, reflecting our commitment to a transparent and democratic union. Together we will work for your interests: by representing the entire unit fairly, openly, and with accountability. Our priorities include upholding our contractual rights and establishing a strong anti-bullying policy through the committee secured in the contract. Additionally, we will advocate for further improvements in housing and health insurance, issues left unresolved in bargaining. We support growing the Union within and without Columbia: advocating for science and postdoc interests on the National stage with other UAW postdoc locals. Most importantly, we promise to listen and represent you. I’m honored to be part of this group seeking to lead the union, and Columbia, into the next era. If elected, I will work tirelessly for and with you to make Columbia ever greater.
Medini Annavajhala – Recording Secretary
In my 8 years at Columbia as a graduate student and postdoctoral researcher, I have organized for GWC-UAW and CPW-UAW and served on the bargaining committee for CPW-UAW. Throughout that time, I have seen the power of academic workers when we organize together to fight for a fairer workplace. Each of my colleagues is dedicated to transparency and accountability and believes in collective leadership – we are committed to working as a team to support our local union chapter. Our main goals are to uphold advances gained thus far and continue pushing for improvements in areas not covered under our contract, including protections against bullying and improved healthcare benefits. We will also reach out to other unions and academic workers across the country to build collective power beyond our unit. My responsibilities as Recording Secretary would include compiling organized records of any official Local 4100 correspondence, such as records of each chapter meeting. I am committed to performing these duties in a transparent, fair, and thorough manner, and to holding our union to the highest standards of integrity. With trust, openness, and accountability, I believe we can build a strong and long-lasting union chapter which will continuously fight to ensure that every postdoc has a fair and equitable workplace long after the lifetime of our current contract.
Pierre-Jacques Brun – Financial Secretary
I have been working in the department of Medicine at Columbia University for 10 years, first as a postdoctoral Fellow, then as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist and now as an Associate Research Scientist. Having observed many different problematic situations over the years, I am sensitive to the power imbalance between yearly appointed, career starting, postdoctoral workers and highly regarded tenured Columbia Professors and how it is often abused. This is why I decided to join the organizing committee during the bargaining unit survey and the anti-bullying petition efforts. I was then honored to join the Bargaining Committee in October 2019 and found there a wonderful group of people dedicated to improving the lives of scientists here at Columbia University. Together, with the help of both organizers and the bargaining team, we achieved a great first contract.
The next few months will be critical in establishing the identity of our Union, I am running because I want to keep contributing to this collective effort as part of this team. As Financial Secretary, I pledge my full integrity, transparency, and an honest effort. As a member of the Executive Board of our Union, I am looking forward to continue the fight to enforce our contract and help members of our bargaining unit by listening and representing you.
Álvaro Cuesta-Domínguez – Sergeant at Arms
I joined Columbia 4 years ago and I am currently a third-year associate research scientist in the Department of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics. When I started my first postdoctoral position at another premier private institution, I realized that postdocs in the US experience a great deal of hurdles, from financial hardship to immigration issues, since the majority of us are on visas. This made me understand that unionization was the way to move forward in terms of bringing change to academic workers not only at a local level, but at a broader national scale. During these years of intensive organizing at Columbia I have had the chance to have conversations around the issues that matter the most for our community with dozens of postdocs and ARS. This year, during the COVID19 pandemic, I experienced how powerful a group of highly skilled researchers can be and the meaningful impact we were able to make through Columbia Researchers Against COVID19 (CRAC), a grassroots platform aimed at fighting the pandemic in different capacities at Columbia/Presbyterian. I believe that scientific evidence should be at the center of every decision-making process when elaborating policies, and I commit to keep on working guided by these principles to further improve the working conditions of our unit and to expand our benefits, with tenacity and determination.
Nicholas Tay – Guide
I joined Columbia in 2019 as a Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Chemistry. During my time as a graduate student and a postdoc, I have realized that inconsistent working conditions, gender- and race-based inequities, stressful research environments, and financial woes are common features of academic science. I am fortunate to have had supportive advisors, and to have done research in collegial departments, but not everyone is as lucky as I am. In order to secure increased financial stability and meaningful protections for all current and future postdoctoral researchers and research scientists, I believe it is important for us to organize and use the power of collective action to secure these rights. I am grateful for the work that the CPW-UAW bargaining committee has done for us, and for the collective participation of many researchers who’ve had meaningful conversations with their coworkers about the union. These efforts have real results, namely us winning our first contract!
As a member of the Executive Committee of our union and along with my colleagues I am committed to building an active and engaged union based on collective leadership to ensure democracy, transparency, and fair representation for all researchers. As the first postdoctoral union in NYC and the first in a private university nationally we can spread the labor movement to new generations.
Tulsi Patel – Trustee
I have been at Columbia for 11 years as a PhD student and a Postdoc. During this time, I have realized that inconsistent working conditions, gender- and race-based inequities, stressful research environments, and financial woes are common features of academic science. Over the last 6 years, I have been organizing for the graduate student union and the postdoctoral union because I believe in the power of collective action to fix these problems. As a member of the CPW-UAW bargaining committee, I saw years of our collective action lead to real results—we won a first contract that provides meaningful protections and increased financial stability for current and future postdoctoral researchers at Columbia.
I am excited to keep working towards a more just working environment with a group of colleagues who are dedicated to building a strong, transparent, and democratic union. As a trustee, I will ensure that our union dues are used in a transparent and democratic manner. In addition, we will work as a team to build a community of researchers in and outside of Columbia, and to collectively fight for our priorities such as a strong anti-bullying policy and better healthcare. I truly believe in the power of science to positively impact society, and I truly believe in the power of collective action to positively impact science.
Andrew Zaharia – Trustee
I’m an associate research scientist in cognitive neuroscience in my third year at Columbia and served on the bargaining committee. I believe unions become necessary when workers don’t have agency over their own working conditions or their employer’s actions. This has certainly been true at Columbia. As a member of CPW, I’m proud of the steps we’ve all taken to shift the balance of power back towards workers, with improvements to pay, recourse for harassment and discrimination, and fellow equity. I believe we won these through heroic organizing, strong member participation, and judicious bargaining. On the bargaining committee, we each took point on specific topics, but ultimately made all decisions by talking to workers, making sure everyone’s interests were always being considered, and reaching consensus in committee. I truly believe this type of leadership is how we reached agreement on our contract and overwhelmingly ratified it. Coronavirus has presented challenges to how we communicate with each other, but I have learned from the experience and continue to be committed to being as open and transparent as possible. We must continue building power in Columbia for the big fights ahead of us: stronger protections against bullying, better health care and housing benefits, and increased diversity and a more inclusive environment. And we need to work across NYC and nationally to put pressure on all universities and funders to treat us with more dignity and respect, because it’s not just better for us, but better for science and academia as a whole.
Panos Oikonomou – Trustee
Five years ago I joined a group of passionate co-workers to form a union that amplifies our voices and fights for our rights. As a member of the organizing committee, I had countless conversations with postdocs about our concerns for a more humane workplace. As an Associate Research Scientist working at Columbia for 10 years, I have experienced the administration’s dismissive attitude towards these concerns in spite of the exceptional nature of our contributions. I believe in academic freedom, both intellectual but also freedom to pursue our research without unnecessary burdens. Freedom from harassment, discrimination, job insecurity, and immigration related stress. Freedom from an inadequate standard of living bolstered by poor compensation and long work hours. A strong collective voice is imperative during the COVID19 pandemic, since the responsibility to create a safe and functional research environment has been left to us with little support. If elected, I will proudly be part of our first executive board and help structure an open and accountable union. I will use the same instincts that I developed as a mentor, to facilitate a more equitable and just work environment supporting my colleagues to achieve their academic goals. I will work to build a strong membership and fight to implement our contract, advocating for academic workers and academic integrity at large.