After several sessions where we believed we were building momentum toward agreement on a fair contract, Columbia has now moved backwards. The Columbia administration team started off our negotiations late last week by withdrawing the July 1, 2020, pay increases they proposed previously, which they said was necessary due to the University budget crisis created by COVID-19.
Their disturbing new proposal does maintain the new rates they previously proposed for July 2021, which would represent significant increases to minimum salaries a little over one year from now: 12.3% for Postdoctoral Research Fellows, 12.6% for Associate Researchers, and 13.9% for Postdoctoral Research Scientist/Scholars. But their proposal also still only makes partial progress on ensuring equal compensation for Postdoctoral Fellows and still does not offer any meaningful improvement for long term researchers.
We understand the COVID-19 crisis has created major administration concerns regarding the university budget. Just hours before giving us their regressive compensation proposal, Columbia officially announced a hiring and salary freeze for most employee groups. However, we also understand that the funding sources for Postdoc and Associate Researchers distinguish us from most other Columbia employees. For example, unlike most Columbia employees, salaries and stipends for most of us are funded directly by external grants and/or fellowships. Moreover, we also know that Columbia is currently joining most other major universities across the US to demand that the US Congress allocate huge increases in federal research funding, which would bring more, not less, money into Columbia’s research budget. Another important factor is that Columbia has already fallen behind other major NYC universities by 1-2 years in increasing minimum salaries for postdocs and ARSs. Overall, with external grants funding most of our salaries/stipends and NIH having already proposed increased minimums for 2020, it makes little sense to penalize us by not even catching up to minimums at our peer institutions.
Second, the University not only moved backwards on compensation, last week they took an increasingly aggressive tone on non-economic issues as well and even threatened to take more money off the table if we do not reach agreement quickly. For example, they articulated rigid positions on some of the core non-economic topics like our Grievance and Arbitration procedure and Non-Discrimination. Though we would also like to reach agreement quickly, we objected vociferously to this effort by the administration to leverage the current COVID-19 crisis to force us to compromise on non-economic issues of great import to Postdocs and Associate Researchers.
This approach by university administrators, many of whom are totally out of touch with what we do on a daily basis, is highly objectionable. We will nevertheless keep working to find ways to reach an overall agreement that we believe is fair. We will bargain again this week and will report back.
We would be happy to hear your thoughts and feedback. Please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, many Postdocs and Associate Research Scientists have been submitting whiteboard testimonials to help contribute to the many voices of why we want a fair contract. Check out the examples and submit one of your own.
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee