We passed our remaining economic articles

We presented all of our remaining economic proposals on Monday’s bargaining session. While we can make additional proposals if we need to, we have now given the administration proposals on all of the topics we have intended to cover. The proposals we made were: Titles and Classifications, Childcare, Housing, Parking and Transportation, Campus Facilities, Work-Incurred Injury or Illness, and Professional Development.

As a whole, our complete set of economic proposals is an ambitious effort to address one of the primary concerns raised by postdocs and Associate Research Scientists throughout our campaign: that the uniquely high cost of living in NYC creates a variety of challenges that undermine PARs’ ability to focus effectively on our research. We expect to have numerous discussions covering these topics in the coming months before reaching a fair agreement.

Our Titles and Classifications article sets out to clearly define the qualifications, roles and responsibilities of Postdoctoral Research Scientists/Scholars/Fellows and Associate Research Scientists/Scholars (PARs), which we hope will help avoid any misunderstandings in the future.

Our Childcare proposal seeks to improve upon the subsidy offered to PARs through Columbia and expand the age criteria for eligible children. We also hope to maintain the existing programs and resources offered through Columbia such as backup childcare and childcare centers.

Our Housing article aims to address numerous challenges PARs face when they move to NYC, such as limited availability of University-owned housing, , the opaque lottery process, and high rents.

The Parking and Transportation article expands the transportation options for PARs. By expanding transportation subsidies, vehicle and bicycle parking options, we hope to improve upon the costly transportation issues we face in NYC.

Our Campus Facilities article proposes that PARs have affordable access to on-campus facilities such as gym/recreational facilities, cultural, and athletic events.

Our Work-Incurred Injury or Illness proposal ensures that if a PAR is unable to work because of a work related injury or ailment that the University would cover any costs and maintain full compensation and benefits.

The Professional Development article would expand resources and opportunities for PAR professional development opportunities while at Columbia. We see a clear mutual interest between us and the University to maintain and expand upon the opportunities we have to continue our training and contribute to the world class research here at Columbia.

Our next bargaining session is September 26th from 1:00pm-5:00pm at CUMC in the lower level of Hammer, room LL110.

Please RSVP if you would like to attend a bargaining session.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Union Update: We Introduced our Economic Proposals

We had a short bargaining session on Thursday where we presented initial proposals on our major economic topics. We made proposals on Compensation, Health Benefits, Retirement, Relocation Benefits, Tuition Benefits, and Tax Assistance. We expect to have many discussions over these issues in coming months before reaching a fair agreement. We also expect to provide a few more outstanding proposals on our next bargaining session on September 16th.

Please RSVP if you would like to attend a bargaining session.

Throughout our campaign and in hundreds of bargaining surveys, PARs have made clear the extreme financial challenges of working and living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. These challenges not only make our lives difficult, but also undermine our ability to give our fullest attention to the research that brought us to Columbia in the first place.

Our economic proposals as a whole aim to improve the overall standard of living for PARs and our families, strengthen our ability to focus on the research we care about, and make Columbia a more inclusive and competitive institution. For example, in recent years, Columbia has fallen behind other NYC institutions who have increased minimum Postdoc salaries significantly. When accounting for cost of living, we also believe Columbia salaries lag far behind colleagues at places like Harvard, Yale and Stanford. To remain fair and competitive, Columbia must do better.

In addition to giving initial economic proposals, we briefly revisited the topic of Non-Discrimination. Thus far, Columbia has barely changed its position on this priority issue for PARs. Since, among other things, the administration has refused to consider protections against “bullying” in the contract because they question whether it is a real problem, we provided them with some of the latest news coverage from the journal Nature about the growing acknowledgement of and efforts to address this problem in the international research community. Unfortunately, Columbia’s bureaucratically-oriented administrators are out of touch with what daily life can be like in a research laboratory. Rather than engage in more arguments at the table yesterday on this important topic, we chose to provide them with additional information to give them an opportunity to consider the importance of this proposal.

Our next bargaining session September 16th at the Studebaker Building from 9:00am-1:00pm.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Columbia ends bargaining session early

 

Thanks to the everyone who attended bargaining yesterday. Unfortunately, we had another challenging bargaining session with Columbia. We had further discussion about our concerns that the University proposal on Recognition could improperly exclude paid-direct Postdoctoral Research Fellows from coverage and rights under our contract. Our conversations on this topic have been frustrating in part because the University has repeatedly changed its position on the number of people they believe might be excluded under their proposal. Yesterday’s discussion became quite intense across the table. Unfortunately, rather than continue attempting to work through our differences, Columbia’s team chose to end our bargaining session one hour earlier than scheduled.

Prior to the discussion on Recognition, we spent more time on Discipline and Discharge, Employment Files and Leaves, which we hope ends up helping us ultimately reach fair agreements on those topics. For example, on Discipline and Discharge, where both the University and the Union proposals include “just cause” protections against arbitrary termination, we continued a discussion from our last session on other areas of difference in our positions. We also attempted to work through a few remaining differences around the nature and timing of researchers’ right to access and be assured of the contents of their Employment Files.

We still have more work to do on these proposals before reaching agreements and we were disappointed that the University chose to walk out on the session when it got particularly challenging as opposed to remaining committed to working through differences to reach a fair agreement.

Our next bargaining session September 5th at the Medical Center from 1:00pm-5:00pm. Please RSVP if you would like to attend a bargaining session.

Best,
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

One of our more frustrating sessions

We had a frustrating bargaining session yesterday. While we hoped to come closer to and/or reach tentative agreements on several contract articles, we made very little progress.

We spent much of our session discussing our Intellectual Property proposal. Our proposal aims to clarify that postdocs and Associate Research Scientist (PARs) have the same rights as other full-time researchers, including faculty, as well as create clear protections against retaliation for PARs who pursue complaints involving intellectual property or scholarly misconduct. The University unfortunately has refused to make a proposal on this topic and told us today they intend to have no language in our contract at all in this area. Columbia’s team attempted to argue that because this topic is related to the academic mission of the University the rights of PARs do not belong in an agreement covering employment conditions. Given the enormous contributions we make to the University’s research mission, as employees, we obviously disagree.

We also had further discussion of our Recognition, Employment Files, and Discipline and Discharge proposals. On Recognition, the university continues to propose language that we are concerned would unnecessarily exclude people who bring their own funding to Columbia who believe would appropriately be represented by the Union. We believe we came a little closer to agreement on Employment Files, but will need to keep working on this topic. Finally, in an effort to come closer together on Discipline and Discharge, we had a lengthy discussion aimed at understanding how the university currently handles potential discipline and discharge of PARs. We expect to have many more conversations on this article in coming sessions.

Frustrating sessions like yesterday show that to achieve a fair contract we will need to demonstrate to the University that we are valuable members of the research community and we deserve fair and equitable working conditions in our contract.

Our next bargaining session August 15th at the Medical Center from 9:00am-1:00pm. Please RSVP if you would like to attend a bargaining session.

Best,
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Agreement on Workload Protections Reached!

We had a short bargaining session yesterday, as well as a separate Health and Safety-focused bargaining subcommittee meeting at the end of last week. We are happy to report that we reached another tentative agreement yesterday on an article establishing fair workload protections. We spent most of our time yesterday discussing our proposals on Recognition, Employment Files, and Discipline and Discharge. While we did not reach agreement on those articles, or on our Health and Safety proposal, we believe we had constructive dialogue that will help us move forward. See below for a summary of these sessions.

Tentative agreement on Workload—We believe we reached agreement on a fair contract provision that establishes protections and an avenue of recourse against cases of abusive, arbitrary or unreasonable workload assigned by a supervisor, while also respecting the right of individual PARs to work as many hours on our projects as we choose.

Recognition—We are still working out some details on language. We want to make clear that the Union represents all the employees that were intended to be represented by our Union in the NLRB case and avoid any language that could open the door for some workers being inappropriately excluded. We hope to reach tentative agreement on this article soon.

Employment Files—While we have moved much closer to agreement on this article, the university still refuses to ensure the right for PARs to comment on information we believe is inaccurate in our employment files. This is a common provision in other postdoc union contracts.

Discipline and Discharge—While Columbia has agreed to the “just cause” standard, an important protection against arbitrary termination of position, we still have a number of differences in how to implement that standard most effectively under our contract.

Health and Safety—A subset of our respective bargaining committees met for a couple hours on Friday to discuss our Health and Safety proposals. We got to meet face-to-face with leadership of the University’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) office, learn about existing procedures at the university, hear their reactions to our initial bargaining proposal, and discuss possible ways to move toward agreement. We felt it was a productive meeting overall that will inform our next proposal to ensure that all PARs work in a safe, healthy environment and receive the training and equipment necessary to do so.

Our next bargaining session August 8th in the Studebaker Building from 9:00am-1:00pm. Please RSVP if you would like to attend a bargaining session.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

CU Says Protections Against Bullying will Hinder Research

Click here if you would like to share your experience with us on why having stronger protections against bullying and harassment will help make Columbia a more inclusive research community.

In our latest bargaining session Thursday, we spent most of our time discussing Columbia’s resistance to including protections against bullying in our contract. We also passed updated proposals on Recognition, Non-Discrimination and Grievance and Arbitration and the university’s team gave updated proposals on Leaves and Employment Files.

Bullying: CU says bullying protections would restrict P.I.s’ ability to mentor good researchers

The discussion regarding bullying was particularly frustrating. Even though members of their own bargaining team — as well as a growing number of observers of academic science, including Nature magazine — acknowledge bullying as a problem, Columbia so far is refusing to put language in our contract establishing protections against such destructive behavior. While we believe our proposed protections against “Power-Based Harassment” would enhance our ability to engage in quality research, the University team actually said on Thursday that such protections would put unreasonable restrictions on a PI’s ability to effectively mentor Postdocs and Associate Researchers and would thus undermine research.

The university team claimed that it would be impossible to clearly define bullying in the contract and that the lack of clarity would lead PIs to refrain from mentoring out of fear that PARs would abuse our ability to construe interactions with our PIs as “bullying.” While we would be happy to consider alternative definitions from the University, we find their outright rejection of our proposal thus far totally unacceptable — citing unsubstantiated and unreasonable claims that our proposal would hinder or inconvenience supervisors is not a legitimate reason to reject protections against the widely acknowledged problem of bullying in the academic workplace.

Please let us know how you think protections against bullying and other forms of harassment can help make Columbia a more inclusive research institution.

Continuing to move forward on other Proposals:

In other activity in our session, we passed an updated proposal on Recognition, attempting to clarify our mutual understanding that the small number of individuals who do research at Columbia, but who are in fact fully compensated and receive benefits from another employer (e.g. Howard Hughes Medical Institute) would not be part of our bargaining unit.

In response to concerns raised by the University, we also modified our Grievance and Arbitration article to define a grievance as a violation of the contract or other adverse action against any postdoc or Associate Research Scientist (PAR).

The university’s team gave us a few counter proposals as well, including updated versions of Employment Files and Leaves. While we believe we have moved closer to agreement on Employment Files, we have a long way to go to on paid leaves of absence. While they have agreed to outline the existing policies in the contract, which would make them clearer and more enforceable, Columbia’s team continues to refuse to offer any material improvement to critical aspects of leave. For example, they refuse to agree to improved paid parental leave, which remains one of the large institutional barriers to women and parents’ ability to advance in academia.

We are bargaining again this Monday 7/29 from 2:00-5:00pm in Studebaker 469. If you would like to join us please RSVP here.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Progress and Ongoing Challenges

Yesterday, we had an eventful bargaining session with some progress and many updates. We are happy to report that we reached tentative agreement on three more contract articles (Training, Travel, and Workspace and Materials). The administration team also made its first significant — though still totally inadequate — change to its proposal on Non-Discrimination, showing they are at least trying to acknowledge the central importance of this issue to researchers at Columbia. In the most insulting development, the University team gave us a virtually meaningless compensation proposal that simply codifies the existing minimum salaries that leave us far behind the high cost of living and our colleagues at a growing number of competitor institutions in New York City. See further details below.

Making some progress with three more tentative agreements

First, the good news–we reached tentative agreement on three more contract articles: Training and Orientation; Travel; and Workspace and Materials.

The Training article ensures that, for any required or approved training or orientation, the University will pay any associated fees and will consider participation to be part of our regular work time. The Travel article ensures that PARs will receive advances or “timely reimbursement” for required work-related travel expenses–we believe having this provision in our contract will improve our ability to address delays in reimbursements under current practice. Lastly, the Workspace and Materials article commits the university to provide access to “facilities, equipment, materials, and access to the Internet and other network resources” necessary to do our work–a proposal that Columbia initially said it would refuse to include in our contract.

While we have many larger outstanding disputes, we are encouraged by our ability to reach agreement on some of the more basic contract provisions that enhance the rights of PARs in ways that are compatible with advancing the mission of the University.

A significant, but still totally inadequate, Columbia proposal on Non-Discrimination.

Nearly five months after our initial proposal, Columbia finally made a proposal that acknowledges the right of PARs to take a grievance on sexual harassment or discrimination to a neutral arbitrator. However, while we appreciate this important step in establishing rights to fair recourse, Columbia’s proposal remains mostly inadequate.

For example, their proposal would require a PAR to process a complaint through existing University non-discrimination procedures before initiating the union grievance process. This could lead to significant and totally unacceptable delays before a PAR could get a fair hearing from a neutral arbitrator because Columbia’s existing investigation procedures have no real deadlines. Columbia also continues to reject many of the other significant components of our proposal, such as protection against bullying, guaranteed interim measures to protect survivors from further harassment or discrimination during investigation of a grievance, and agreement to work jointly with the Union to improve training aimed at preventing bullying, harassment and discrimination. After a majority of PARs signed an open letter to Columbia demanding fair recourse, we are encouraged that Columbia has made a small improvement in its position, but we have a long way to go in order to reach agreement on this important topic.

A Compensation Proposal that would codify Columbia’s competitive disadvantage

Finally, Columbia’s team gave us an initial proposal on Compensation that simply reiterates the current University minimum salary rates for Postdoctoral Research Scientists, Postdoctoral Research Fellows, and Associate Research Scientists. Frankly, we are not even sure why the University gave us this proposal, as it offers no improvement to the status quo. As a majority of PARs have made clear throughout our campaign and in our bargaining surveys, Columbia needs to do significantly better when it comes to compensating us fairly for the world-class research we do at this University. Columbia’s minimum salaries lag significantly behind a growing number of New York City institutions that now pay Postdocs a minimum salary over $58,000. We know Columbia can do much better, and needs to do much better in order for us to work together to maintain our status as a magnet for attracting the best researchers from across the world.

We have several sessions coming up. If you would like to attend a session please RSVP to let us know in advance, as the locations are subject to change. Many PARs have attended bargaining sessions and found them illuminating to understand the process and the challenges we have ahead in order to win a fair first contract at Columbia.

Upcoming Sessions:

July 25th, 9am-1pm

July 29th, 2pm-5 pm

August 8th, 9am-1pm

August 15th, 9am-1pm

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Bargaining Update and Town Halls

In our latest bargaining session this week, another postdoc gave compelling testimonial about bullying, discrimination and harassment, we had constructive discussion on many of our outstanding proposals, and reached a tentative agreement on another contract article (Union-Management Committee).

RSVP for an upcoming union Town Hall the week of July 2nd-5th to hear an update about bargaining, ask questions and learn how to get more involved.  

We started with a testimonial from one of our postdoc colleagues about the impact and challenges of working in a hostile and disruptive lab environment at Columbia. The postdoc  discussed how his P.I. had engaged in extensive bullying, manipulation, and intimidation of lab members. He described how the P.I. responded when one member of the lab filed a Title IX complaint against another lab member. The P.I. reacted with hostility toward the complainant and decided a few months later not to renew the complainant’s contract. The P.I.’s actions ultimately led several researchers to leave the group.

The postdoc reached out to various University offices about the abusive behaviors he had observed. Other than assurance that the situation would be investigated, the member was given no remedy. Ultimately, he found a position in another laboratory on his own. He closed his testimony by arguing for the importance of a neutral grievance procedure and clear definition of power-based harassment (i.e. bullying) in order to make it easier for researchers to raise and address these situations in a fair process with representation and advocacy from the Union.

After our colleague’s testimony, we signed a tentative agreement on an article establishing a Union-Management Committee that would ensure the Union and Columbia meet at least quarterly to discuss any issues that arise during the life of our contract. We then had further discussion and believe we came a little closer to reaching an agreement on our proposals regarding Training and Orientation, Travel, Work space and Materials, and Employment Files.

We also had more substantive discussion of our Vacation, Holidays and Leaves proposals. We continue to have the greatest differences around our proposal to expand PARs’ right to paid parental, family medical and other leaves of absence. Columbia made it very clear that they believe the status quo is more than sufficient and had no interest in changing the current leaves benefits. While we believe our proposals would make the university more inclusive and enable recruitment and retention of the best researchers regardless of background or family status, Columbia’s team so far has rigidly rejected any change to the status quo in this area.  We expect to continue to discuss this important issue in future sessions.

We finished the bargaining session with a brief discussion of our Non-discrimination and Harassment proposal and our proposal to clarify “just cause” protections against arbitrary termination. It is clear that the numerous testimonials in bargaining and the open letter signed by a majority of PARs calling for real recourse has pressured Columbia at least start listening to our concerns on discrimination and harassment.

It is clear that it will take continued engagement and hard work from PARs all across campus to reach a fair agreement with Columbia.

Please RSVP for our Bargaining Update Town Halls to ask questions, hear an update about the progress we have made in bargaining and next steps on how to win a strong contract in bargaining with Columbia.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Bargaining Update Town Halls! July 2nd-July 5th

Since winning our union election last October by an overwhelming 68%, we have completed surveys from a majority of postdocs and associate researchers, democratically ratified our bargaining goals, elected a bargaining committee, and concluded our first eight bargaining sessions!

We are holding Town Hall meetings to answer questions about our progress in bargaining and discuss our strategy for winning a strong contract.

 

Click here to RSVP for a Bargaining Update Town Hall.

  • Manhattanville – Jerome L. Greene Science Center, Room L3-079, July 2nd, 12:30-1:30pm
  • Morningside – Fairchild Building, Room 1000, July 3rd, 12:30-1:30pm
  • CUMC – Physicians and Surgeons Building, Room 16-405 (Todd Amphitheatre), July 5th, 12:00-1:00pm

 

The more of us who participate in shaping our contract campaign, the better the contract we will be able to win in negotiations. Please click here to let us know if you can make it to a Town Hall so we know how much food and materials to prepare.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

A Lively Bargaining Session

Thanks to all our colleagues who joined us at our lively bargaining session with Columbia on Monday.  We spent most of this week’s session addressing Columbia’s concerns about our proposal for stronger protections against bullying, discrimination, and harassment, as well as explaining how short, insecure appointments and inefficient reappointment procedures can disrupt our ability to focus on our research.  We exchanged a number of other proposals as well. See below for more details.

We began our session with one of our international researcher colleagues vividly describing the (unfortunately not uncommon) experience of working without pay due to Columbia’s bureaucratic delays in processing appointments. In this individual’s case, he arrived, along with his pregnant wife, to start work and had to pay rent and thousands of dollars in prenatal health care costs out-of-pocket for the first few months while receiving no income from Columbia. He further described the cost, stress, and disruption to his research caused by Columbia’s insistence on short-term appointments, requiring him to return to his home country annually to renew his visa and ensure that his wife was able to work.  We hope that his story helped show Columbia that our proposals for longer appointments and flexibility on visa sponsorship would help us focus on research and make Columbia a more family-friendly and inclusive community of scholars.

After our colleague’s testimony, we had a lengthy discussion around our Non-Discrimination and Harassment proposal. Unfortunately, rather than engage in substantive discussion of the main principles behind our proposal, Columbia argued that we had either not read or not understood Columbia’s current policies on harassment, that PARs do not experience difficulties under the current system, that the option of a neutral third-party is unnecessary, and that Columbia is already “a national leader” in addressing sexual harassment – in spite of numerous high-profile cases of misconduct and the fact that strengthening current policies was one of the many reasons a majority of PARs voted for a union.

After hearing their objections, we made clear that stronger protections against discrimination and harassment was a major reason we formed a union and that we intend to continue this discussion until we reach an agreement on fair protections. We felt even more strongly about our proposal having just seen how contractual protections, support, and advocacy from her union helped UCLA postdoc Sandra Koch win her job back last week by pursuing a union grievance against pregnancy discrimination.

Next, we passed Columbia five updated counter-proposals on: Appointments and Reappointments, Training, Travel, Union-Management Committee, and Workspace and Materials. While their team continued to argue against longer appointment lengths, they acknowledged that there are issues related to reappointment and visa renewal that should be addressed. We also made a lot of progress on our Union-Management Committee proposal, which would establish a joint committee to help enforce the contract, and we expect to reach a tentative agreement on this at our next session. This is good news, and demonstrates that we are continuing to move forwards while identifying the areas on which we are still farther apart.

The University also passed us their first proposal on the subject of Discipline and Discharge, which included “just cause” protection against termination.  While we have a number of other issues to work out in that article of the contract, it is an important step forward that Columbia agreed to include “just cause” as it protects researchers against arbitrary, unfair termination by a supervisor.

Overall, in the words of one postdoc who attended the bargaining session, it seemed as if Columbia’s team was not “feeling enough pressure” on the issues we discussed. While logical arguments and data are important aspects of the process, it was clear at this session that winning real recourse and protection against bullying, discrimination, and harassment, and more stable policies for international workers, will take the continued participation and action of postdocs and Associate Research Scientists across the university. Our next bargaining session will take place on June 20th.

Click here to find out what you can do to help win a strong contract at Columba.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee