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Wednesday June 19th
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).
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.
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee
Monday June 10th
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.
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee
Monday May 20th
In our seventh bargaining session, we presented the administration with our open letter signed by a majority of Postdocs and Associate Research Scientists, calling on Columbia to negotiate stronger protections and recourse against harassment and discrimination. Representatives from our union and the graduate worker union delivered the open letter to President Bollinger’s office earlier that afternoon. Check out our facebook post and like the page to receive similar updates.
We started out our bargaining session yesterday with a powerful testimony from one of our fellow Associate Research Scientists who talked about being bullied by her former PI over a seven year period and the lack of effective university policies to address her type of situation, especially for international researchers whose visas depend on their PI’s support.
She described a culture of bullying and abuse of power that took the form of expecting researchers to work 12-13 hour days and over the weekends, clear violations of intellectual property policies, belittling comments and deliberate undermining of the lab members, and extreme pressure to deliver results. Even after leaving the lab, she was excluded from authorship over her own work and faced retaliation when she attempted to use existing university procedures to seek recourse. The administration’s bargaining team acknowledged that strengthening protections against this kind of behavior was in the interest of everyone at the university.
During the session, we made four new proposals and continued to discuss several others. We made a lot of progress on some of our key non-economic issues, and reached our first tentative agreement with the university, on our Severability article. This is very exciting because it demonstrates that we are making progress towards a fair agreement with the University. The article ensures that if any part of the contract is invalidated by law, that the rest of the contract will remain in effect. Our four new proposals were: Non-Discrimination and Harassment, International Worker Rights and Protections, Intellectual Property and Scholarly Misconduct, and Health and Safety.
Our Non-Discrimination and Harassment proposal would state the university’s commitment to protect against all forms of discrimination and harassment, establish preventative measures, and provide recourse options in cases where these issues do take place.
Our International Workers Rights and Protections proposal would provide more support and transparency for international PARs in acquiring visas and protections against visa-renewal related costs.
Our Intellectual Property proposal would give PARs more rights and control over what happens with research that we produce.
Our Health and Safety proposal would ensure that PARs can address health concerns and maintain safe working environments.
The university also gave us a packet of their positions on various articles, which nevertheless did not address many of our most recent proposals and ignored substantial issues we raised in previous sessions. In our next bargaining sessions, we will continue to discuss these and other proposals as we move forward in negotiations.
Our next bargaining session will take place on June 10th. One member of our bargaining committee, Sonny Harman, will be leaving Columbia soon and will be replaced by our current Alternate, Ignacio Hernandez Morato. If you have any questions or would like to get more involved with the union please email [email protected]
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee
Thursday May 2nd
We are planning to present our harassment and discrimination proposal in our next session. If you have not yet signed our Open Letter to the University, encouraging them to agree to stronger protections around bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination please do so here.
We had our sixth bargaining session with the University’s bargaining team yesterday. We discussed several new proposals and had further discussion on a number of our previous proposals. While we have not yet reached agreement on any of our proposed contract articles, we did have productive dialogue on a number of topics and felt we made a little bit more progress toward finding common ground than in some of our previous sessions. See below for details.
We began by presenting new counter proposals on Vacation, Employment Files, and Job Postings. Our Employment Files proposal would provide recourse for a Postdocs or Associate Research Scientists (PAR) to access and review their employment file. Our Job Postings proposal would ensure that a diverse and qualified pool of candidates could apply for a positions, making the University more inclusive and competitive. Our Vacation proposal would entitle PARs to a well-defined and easily enforceable allotment of vacation time that cannot be dictated solely by the P.I. We still have differences to work out on each proposal, but yesterday’s discussions made us more hopeful of reaching fair agreements on Employment Files and Job Postings. Vacation may be more challenging because of how it connects to our ongoing discussion of paid leave for parents and other related reasons.
Columbia responded with counter proposals on Union Security and Holidays and proposed a new No-Strike No-Lockout clause. We were particularly encouraged by their proposal on Holidays, which moved beyond their previous way of making proposals that just referenced the Handbook, which would allow them to retain the ability to change the policy whenever they want. In their newest counter proposal, the University has specified actual dates, as well as defining personal days. They also included a provision we proposed, which would give PARs the right to take off an alternative day if required to work on a holiday. This is an important step forward in these discussions.
Their Union Security proposal would allow an open shop where everyone would receive the benefits of the contract without contributing financially to the cost of representation. This proposal would substantially weaken the power of our local union to bargain strong subsequent contracts and enforce our contract once it goes into effect.
The No-Strike No-Lockout clause is a standard clause in union contracts that would ensure that during the life of a contract, the University could not force PARs to stop working over a disagreement about the contract and unionized employees could not engage in strikes or work stoppages. It is typically accompanied by a robust Grievance and Arbitration provision, which would allow us to resolve any disputes through a neutral arbitrator if necessary instead of striking. We still have a long way to go to reach agreement on our grievance procedure proposal, and do not see how we can agree to a no-strike provision without such a strong enforcement mechanism also in our a contract.
Our next session is May 20th. If you have any questions or would like to get more involved with the union please email [email protected]
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee
Monday April 22nd
Our bargaining committee continued to discuss several proposals we had previously made to the University which address many of the reasons a majority of us voted to have a union. We are engaged in collective bargaining to improve our lives as researchers and make Columbia more equitable, inclusive and competitive. However, the administration continues to minimize the importance of our proposals and insist that what they provide is already good enough.
We discussed Union Access and Rights (the ability for the union to effectively engage with members on campus), Workspace and Materials (ensuring that researchers have adequate space and materials to complete their work), Workload and Work Quality (protections from unreasonable workloads), Employment Files (the right to view and comment on our employment files), Job Posting (having equitable and fair transparency around postings), Travel (timely reimbursement for travel-related costs), and Appointment Notifications (minimum appointment lengths and a clear process for reappointment).
The University responded with a follow up proposals to Union Recognition (a definition of what job classifications are included in the union) and Workspace and Materials. Most of our discussion revolved around the idea that current University policies often fall short of ensuring clear procedures for Postdocs and Associate Research Scientists to have redress when it comes to basic workplace rights. Our next session is Scheduled for May 2nd, where we hope to continue to discuss the 22 articles that we have proposed so far.
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee
Monday April 15th
We are excited to have completed our fourth bargaining session with Columbia.
While we had productive discussion on several proposals such as; Union Management Committee, Training and Orientation, Work Load and Workspace and Materials, it is clear that that we have a lot more work to do to on several other provisions in the contract. In several of Columbia’s counter proposals, the University continues to propose maintaining the status quo on current policies while simultaneously reserving the right to change those policies without bargaining with our union.
We voted overwhelmingly to have an equal seat at the table and collectively bargain to improve our working conditions. We want to have clear, enforceable language in our contract and Columbia continues to insist on the status quo in which they would have the right to unilaterally change and determine our working conditions. In the University’s counter proposals on Leaves, Holidays, Vacation and Job Postings they proposed having language that would not even codify the status quo but would simply allow the university to determine those policies outside of our contract.
The University gave us counter proposals on Union Management Committee, Training and Orientation, Work Load, Workspace and Materials, Leaves, Job Postings, Union Rights and Access, Appointment Notification and Employment Files.
We gave counters on Employment Files, Union Management Committee, Training and Orientation, Vacation and Holidays.
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee
Monday April 1st
We had another half-day bargaining session today. In our discussion and in their counterproposals so far, Columbia again made clear its desire to include as few rights in our contract as possible. In response to the university’s previous proposal that would require PARs to address sexual harassment or discrimination only through Columbia’s existing procedures, we have started an open letter.
Not only were they resistant to several of our articles covering basic rights concerning our working conditions, they have so far refused to put some of the basic components of current policies in the contract. While we find this approach frustrating and lacking a substantive basis, we did continue to have some worthwhile discussion.
We submitted 8 new proposals: Appointment Notification and Job Description, Appointment Security, Job Posting, Workload and Work Quality, Leaves of Absence, Discipline & Dismissal, Grievance Procedure & Arbitration and Union Rights & Access.
The University gave us counterproposals on our initial proposals on Severability, Travel & Reimbursement, Union-Management Committee, Vacations, Holidays, Training & Orientation and outright rejected our proposals on Past Practices, Successorship, Subcontracting, Employee Assistance Program, Employment Files and Workspace & Equipment.
Summary of our new proposals:
Appointments- This article would establish minimum appointment and reappointment lengths, timelines and content for notifications of offers of appointment and description of assignment.
Appointment Security- This would ensure that once Columbia has offered an appointment to a Postdoc/ARS, they guarantee the position and conditions through the length of the appointment.
Job Posting- Guarantees that job postings will continue to adhere to university policy encouraging transparency and equal opportunity for candidates.
Workload- Gives Postdocs/ARS the ability to address unreasonable workloads that are not connected to research needs.
Leaves of Absence- Outlines paid leaves of absence for medical, parental, bereavement and other forms of approved absence from assigned duties.
Discipline and Dismissal- Creates a fair process for progressive discipline in the case that the University is contemplating disciplinary action.
Grievance and Arbitration- Creates a process in which provisions in the contract can be enforced. This article would allow for Postdocs/ARS to take a grievance to a neutral third party if they are unable to reach a satisfactory resolution with the University.
Union Rights and Access- Provides the union with the necessary information and access to the workplace to ensure that members of the bargaining unit are represented.
CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee
Friday March 15th
We had our second bargaining session today and gave our first batch of proposed contract articles to Columbia’s team. We had some productive initial conversation on some of our topics, but Columbia also passed several proposals communicating its central priorities in the negotiations. While we left the meeting knowing how much work we have to do in coming months, we also know that with support and participation of Postdoc and Associate Researchers (PARs) across Columbia, we can win a fair agreement.
You can read a full summary below, but our proposals covered basic topics like Recognition as well as more substantive provisions that would make improvements and clarify basic workplace rights and benefits like payment for work-related travel and access to time off for holidays and vacations.
Columbia’s proposals, on the other hand and in their own words, would “preserve the status quo” by codifying their right to run the academic mission of the University and preserve their internal procedures on complaints regarding discrimination and sexual harassment. For example, their initial proposal would require PARs to address sexual harassment or discrimination through Columbia’s existing procedures. Unfortunately, as many PARs know and as a growing number of prominent academic societies (e.g. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine) have pointed out recently, these existing procedures too often fail to produce fair outcomes. We will be making our own counter-proposal to enhance protections against harassment and discrimination sometime soon–if you are interested in discussing or contributing to our development of this proposal, please join the Bullying, Discrimination and Harassment Working Group.
We look forward to continuing to develop further proposals, moving ahead with more bargaining sessions, and taking on what will be a challenging campaign to win a fair contract for all Postdoc and Associate Researchers at Columbia.
See below for a summary of our proposals passed today.
SUMMARY OF CPW-UAW PROPOSALS
Recognition: would codify official recognition of CPW-UAW
Past Practices: would protect benefits and conditions that we do not address specifically in the contract
Severability: would protect remainder of contract if one provision is declared unlawful and ensure our right to bargain over any impacts
Successorship: would preserve our contract if ownership of Columbia is transferred
Subcontracting: would protect against subcontracting of PAR work
Union-Management Committee: creates a joint committee to meet regularly during the life of the contract on matters related to our contract
Union Security: would ensure that PARs contribute equally to the cost of representation
Employee Assistance Program: would preserve access to EAP, which all PARs recently gained access to
Employment Files: would ensure access to and rights to ensure accuracy of our employment records
Travel: would improve Columbia payment to PARs for all work-related travel
Training: would ensure that PARs are paid for all time spent at trainings
Holidays: would clarify and improve rights to time off on holidays
Vacation: would clarify and improve access to vacation time off
Workspace and Materials: would ensure that Columbia provide space, materials, equipment, and facilities necessary for PARs to perform our work
SUMMARY OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PROPOSALS
Management and Academic Rights: would give Columbia wide-ranging discretion to determine that aspects of university operations are “academic” and therefore not subject to our collective bargaining relationship
Grievance: defines the process for how grievances would be handled
Arbitration: would establish access to a neutral arbitration process for grievances, but give the university broad discretion to block such grievances by calling them “academic.”
Non-Discrimination: would simply codify existing university policy in our contract
Monday February 25th
Today, our bargaining committee had our first negotiation session with the University administration. We began the meeting with introductions, and then our team presented our bargaining goals which have been ratified by 98% of voting Postdocs and Associate Researchers. You can read the bargaining goals here. The bargaining committee articulated how making these improvements can help to make Columbia a progressive leader for research institutions across the country. By making the university more accessible and inclusive, postdocs and ARS can spend more of our time dedicated to our research.
After our presentation, the university responded that the path to finalizing an agreement will be challenging, though they are committed to reaching an agreement and believe that collective bargaining works. Our bargaining goals encompass both economic and non-economic proposals, and we are excited to negotiate for provisions that both ease our financial burdens and establish new rights for researchers. For example, we aim to negotiate stronger recourse against discrimination and sexual harassment, a critical provision that could enable a researcher a better chance at achieving a fair and just resolution. These types of provisions, which equalize the power relationship between us and the university, would constitute a fundamental improvement to our work experience. We know the University is likely to resist such changes, and we are committed to work through those challenges.
While the meeting was cordial, their comments made clear that reaching a fair contract will take engaged participation from Postdocs and Associate Research Scientists across campus. We will continue to keep everyone apprised of updates moving forward.
The University’s bargaining team consists of Bernie Plum, an attorney with the law firm Proskauer Rose, Dan Driscoll (Vice-President and Chief Human Resources Officer) Patsy Catapano (Associate General Counsel) Linda Mischel Eisner (Director of Special Projects, Office of the President), Julia Hirschberg (Professor of Computer Science), Bill Innes (Associate Vice Dean-Human Resources at Columbia), Wil McCoy (Assistant Vice President, Budget and Planning at Columbia University Medical Center), Mary Ann Carlese (Senior Director, Labor Relations), Art Lerner-Lam (Deputy Director: Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory), Rose Razaghian (Dean of Academic Planning and Governance), Mike Shelanski (Senior Vice Dean for Research & Co-Director, Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain).