Columbia needs to pick up the pace toward a fair agreement

In our latest bargaining session Monday, we continued to make modest progress on some of the core non-economic issues remaining in our ongoing negotiations. We would again like to thank all the postdoc and associate researchers who have stepped up in recent weeks to amplify our bargaining demands, including reaching out to administrators and elected leader allies from around New York City. Please expect to do more in the coming days as we continue to move toward the research ramp-up. See fuller bargaining update below.

In sadness and outrage at the horrific murder of George Floyd, our bargaining committee also released a statement of solidarity with Black communities and against anti-Black violence. We believe that one of our fundamental purposes as a union is to use our collective voice to fight all forms of bigotry, racism and other forms of oppression and to work towards a more inclusive and equitable community inside and outside the walls of Columbia.

CPW-UAW Bargaining June 1, 2020

Columbia continues to condition any pay increases for next year on reaching agreement before the end of June. While we question the legitimacy and basis for that position, both bargaining committees have expressed a mutual desire to reach agreement in the next month. It is therefore critical that we make consistent progress as we move forward. While progress was made, Monday also showed that Columbia needs to pick up the pace on meeting some of our core demands on protections for survivors of discrimination and harassment, fair compensation, and our rights to effective representation during the life of our contract.

Most of our discussion Monday revolved around Package 2 of our outstanding proposals: the University presented a revised and improved proposal on Grievance and Arbitration, perhaps the most important article in a first union contract, which lays out the procedure by which we enforce rights and protections we have negotiated in other articles; we exchanged proposals on and came very close to resolving the Union Rights article; we presented new counter proposals on Management Rights and Union Security to the University; and we had brief discussion of the outstanding flaws in the University’s Non-Discrimination proposal. We also had a lengthy discussion about the problems in the University’s standing Compensation proposal.

In short, we continue to face several problematic positions from Columbia on major issues that are blocking our ability to reach a fair, full agreement.  

  • Compensation: Columbia continues to propose that minimum salaries lag behind most other NYC institutions in the short term, that hundreds of researchers receive no guaranteed increase until at least July 2021, and no increases for long term service.  
  • Non-Discrimination: while Columbia has acknowledged that their investigatory process can take too long, they still have refused to agree to any language ensuring a timely process for those who need it.
  • Union versus management rights during the contract: Columbia continues to make proposals that would give them an unusually robust ability to challenge our right to take grievances to neutral arbitration and continues to oppose our proposal for union security, where out of fairness all unit members share the cost of representation to ensure adequate resources for engaging in effective representation into the future.  

We will be bargaining again on Friday and will be in touch again soon.

In solidarity,

The CPW-UAW bargaining committee

Moving back in the right direction, but Columbia can still do better

Recent Postdoc and Associate Researcher actions appear to have had some positive effect on Columbia’s approach to our negotiations and desire to reach an agreement in the near future, as well as their responses to more immediate concerns on COVID-19. However, yesterday’s session also made it clear that we will need to demonstrate our priorities even more strongly if we want to achieve the kind of fair agreement we deserve on an acceptable timeline – especially when it comes to stronger protections against discrimination and harassment. See our latest bargaining update below.

The recent positive shift in Columbia’s position is certainly thanks to the many Postdoc and Associate Researchers who have taken action to elevate our collective voice over the past several weeks. Hundreds of us have signed an open letter to the Provost demanding a fair contract, participated in our whiteboard campaign, and urged Congress to support science and research funding as we continue through and transition out of the COVID-19 crisis. There is power in numbers, so please let us know if you can join us in other actions moving forward!  

Bargaining Update May 18, 2020

First, after repeated recent discussions regarding researchers’ health and safety rights during the pending ramp-up, the University informed us that they will be announcing a COVID-19 “research ambassadors” program so that concerned individuals may raise complaints without fear of retaliation. The administration team said the details of this program would be announced this week.

The administration team also finally responded – partially – to our recent presentation of three major package proposals intended to establish a pathway to a fair agreement. Columbia restored most of its pre-COVID-19 compensation proposal on the condition that we reach an agreement by June 30, and made another move in our direction on paid parental leave. However, they made only minimal movement on stronger, more timely protections against discrimination, harassment and bullying, and did not change their proposals on other important outstanding issues. While overall these changes are in the right direction, we know Columbia can do better.

We remain committed to achieving a fair contract that provides competitive compensation for Postdocs and Associate Researchers, enables us to engage in effective representation of our rights in the workplace, and strengthens equity and inclusion in our research community. Below is the latest status of our package proposals.

Package 1 – The major remaining dispute in this package is paid parental leave. We have proposed eights weeks of fully-paid leave for new parents, available upon appointment and contract ratification, whereas Columbia has now offered five weeks, available after one year of employment and starting on January 1, 2021.

Package 2 – This package (Non-Discrimination, Grievance and Arbitration, Union Rights, Union Security, Management Rights, and No Strikes/No Lockouts. Our Non-Discrimination) includes the largest number of outstanding issues. After making significant moves to address the administration’s concerns in our last Non-Discrimination proposal, Columbia still offered only minimal new language to address our proposal for timely access to a neutral arbitrator if necessary. Columbia also did not change its position on many other outstanding issues in this package that bear on our ability to have a strong, effective voice through our union into the future.

Package 3 – Columbia restored previous proposals for significant increases to minimum salaries for Postdoc and Associate Researchers. But their proposal would still leave us behind peer institutions until at least July 2021, does not achieve full equity for Postdoctoral Research Fellows, and lacks fair increases for those above the minimums and for long term employees. Furthermore, Postdoctoral and Associate researchers whose salaries are above the new proposed minimum would not be eligible for a salary increase until July 2021.  

We will bargain again next week Wednesday and will keep you posted as we keep moving forward.

In solidarity,

The CPW-UAW bargaining committee

Concerns about safety in the lab next week?

Please click here if you are concerned about returning to work next week

Although the University has not announced a definite research ramp-up start date, we have heard numerous concerns from researchers who are expected to resume some amount of in-person work at Columbia next week, especially at CUIMC.

In our bargaining session today, university administrators said that while there is an evolving definition of what constitutes essential work in the context of city and state guidelines, the University wants any return to in-person work to be reasonable and voluntary.

Please click here if you are concerned about reporting to work next week and/or if you would like help addressing the situation.

Sincerely and in safe solidarity,

The CPW-UAW bargaining committee

Tell Columbia – We Need a Fair Contract now More than Ever

Please Sign our Letter to the Admin Demanding a Fair Contract

We clearly need to send a stronger message to the Columbia administration to reach agreement on a fair contract.

The Columbia team came to our Thursday session with virtually no new proposals—even though more than a week had passed since we presented a substantial set of proposals intended to offer fair compromises and a pathway to an overall fair agreement. We deserve better.

Postdoc and Associate Researchers play a critical, front-line role carrying out the prestigious research that brings roughly $1 Billion per year into the University budget for our pay and benefits and the campus infrastructure. Now we do essential work on COVID-19 research and holding the critical aspects of research labs together amidst social distancing. Hundreds of us have stepped up to volunteer to help Columbia play a proactive role in taking on COVID-19 in one of its global epicenters. Many of us have also now taken time to reach out to Congress urging that they invest in Columbia and other research universities moving through and coming out of the COVID-19 crisis.  

In short, we play a central role in making Columbia research happen. Yet, Columbia continues to propose a contract that significantly undervalues our work and would make only limited improvements to our basic voice in the workplace and power to address discrimination, harassment and bullying.Despite the sparse overall response to our previous proposals, we did make some progress on the grievance procedure, as Columbia made a proposal that would help establish a more efficient process for resolving disputes under our contract. While a number of more major issues remain in the grievance and arbitration article, we continue to move closer to a satisfactory resolution on that topic.
Please help us send a strong message to the administration so they bring more to our next session.

In solidarity,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

[petition] Tell Columbia to Agree to a Fair Contract

Tell Columbia to respect researchers by agreeing to a fair contract as we all take on COVID-19.

As a group, Columbia Postdocs and ARSs have stepped up to help fight this pandemic. In addition to working as essential employees maintaining research infrastructure, hundreds of us are studying the disease to understand transmission and treatment, organizing drives for PPE, coordinating childcare for frontline healthcare workers, and more.

However, in recent bargaining sessions, Columbia has used the crisis to justify withdrawing their previous economic proposal and articulated that researchers should not expect any economic improvements in the first year of the contract. They have also continued to reject provisions like protections against harassment that cost nothing.Our work is indispensable during this crisis. Click here to tell Columbia to recognize the value we bring to the university and negotiate a fair contract now: https://bit.ly/RespectResearchers

In solidarity,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Write to Congress to Protect Academic Workers!

Click here–write Congress now to protect Researchers and other Academic Workers.

Join us in sending a letter to congress with this pre-filled, customizable letter that makes advocating to congress for additional resources easy and fast.

Last week our elected bargaining committee sent a letter to Congressional representatives and Senators expressing the urgent need for Universities to be included in the fourth COVID-19 stimulus package. We are now asking you to join us in reaching out to your congressional representatives to ask them to provide crucial resources to research related agencies and institutions.

Across the country, UAW Academic Workers – from Columbia, to the University of Washington, to the University of California – are coming together to make our voices heard in Congress about the support we need to keep our universities and research thriving in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 shutdowns have impacted Columbia Postdocs and Associate Researchers in many ways, from campus closures that have halted research, disruptions to visa processing and promotion timelines, and lack of childcare options, strains placed on our families, and more.

Congress will be passing additional stimulus bills to help lessen the impacts of COVID-19, which is why your voice is needed now. Will you join the effort and take 5 minutes to write to your members of Congress to demand the following?:

  1. Immediate financial support, including funding to allow continuity of critical research projects, for Universities to continue to employ all personnel until operations return to full speed.
  2. Support for international students and scholars to ensure that all may remain safely in place and continue to work and study in the future.
  3. Additional funding for financial aid so students can continue to have access to affordable instruction.

Click here to write to Congress now to protect Academic Workers.You can submit letters to your Member of Congress and Senators in just a few quick steps right here. We also encourage you to forward this email to your friends and colleagues. Let’s work together to protect academic workers now!

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Time for Columbia to make a fair offer

Compared to last week, when Columbia’s team withdrew proposed salary increases and accused us of wasting time during the COVID-19 crisis (even though hundreds of us have been volunteering to help address the crisis), we had a much more pleasant bargaining session on Wednesday.   We made a serious effort in this week’s session to find a viable pathway to a fair overall agreement, and hope the administration team comes back with a fair set of proposals next time. But that is up to the University administration.

Given the shrinking number of issues in dispute, the CPW-UAW committee gave Columbia three package proposals that cover all the outstanding bargaining topics. In a package proposal, we propose more moderate provisions in certain areas on the condition that the University agree to our priorities in other areas. We hope that by combining the topics into a small number of packages, our committee and the University can more efficiently reach a fair overall agreement that incorporates priorities for both sides.

We remain committed to achieving a fair contract that provides competitive compensation for Postdocs and Associate Researchers, enables us to engage in effective representation of our rights in the workplace and strengthens equity and inclusion in our research community.

Package 1 includes Recognition, Appointments, Holidays, Vacation, Leaves, International Researcher Rights, and Professional Development. This package is the closest to overall agreement, with the most significant dispute remaining in the article covering paid parental leave. While we have made progress on establishing the right to additional paid parental leave, we still believe the University can and should do better on this issue that would advance gender equity.  

Package 2 includes Non-Discrimination, Grievance and Arbitration, Union Rights, Union Security, Management Rights, and No Strikes/No Lockouts. Our Non-Discrimination proposal is obviously a major priority for Postdoc and Associate Researchers, but so far the University has failed to adequately address some of the key concerns we have in this area around timeliness, access to representation and protection from retaliation, and bullying. The University has adamantly resisted policy changes that apply to a single group of employees. They proposed a University-wide working group, which would include Union representatives, to recommend new policies for the whole University addressing “potentially abusive or intimidating behavior.” Our package includes a version of this that requires the University to adopt these new policies. This package also includes all of the foundational articles that would establish our ability to have a strong, effective union and clarify the University’s rights during the life of our first contract.

Package 3 covers Compensation, as well as Health Insurance and other benefits. In this package, we made clear to Columbia that we would be willing to drop our original proposal to enhance benefits in a number of areas if we have agreement on fair compensation increase for all Postdocs, including Postdoctoral Research Fellows. We continue to believe that, given the unique funding structures for our positions, it does not make sense to apply the salary freeze to Postdocs and Associate Researchers. We will continue to fight for fair compensation that reflects the value we bring to this institution.Look out for opportunities to help send Columbia a message to finish a fair contract! If you are interested in helping or have feedback, contact us at columbiapostdocunion@gmail.com.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Columbia Now Citing COVID-19 to move Backwards in Bargaining

Read the CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee letter urging Congress to increase research funding

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 columbiapostdocunion@gmail.com.

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.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

More COVID-19 and Bargaining Updates

Follow the CPW-UAW FB Page as we fight to finish a fair contract!

After meeting again with the Columbia administration team last week, we have another brief update on COVID-19 issues, as well as our continued negotiations for our first contract. Our last bargaining session is summarized below.

COVID-19-related updates.

We had further discussion with the administration regarding the effects of COVID-19 on Postdoc and Associate Researchers. Since a number of researchers had raised concerns regarding recent Columbia communications regarding potential redeployment plans, we requested clarification on that topic.  

Columbia told us that, due in large part to the substantial numbers of volunteers, they did not envision a need for or have any plans to redeploy Postdoc and Associate Researchers. In response to concerns about health and safety of those who do volunteer, the University reiterated that they are working hard with the hospital to ensure that everyone has the necessary training and personal protective equipment. Related to some of our other questions, the International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) urged all international researchers to contact their office for guidance on visa rules regarding volunteering. During the course of our conversation at the bargaining table, administrators on the University team expressed great gratitude for the number of volunteers who have been stepping up in recent weeks.

While we had a productive discussion of these issues, we want to remind all researchers to contact us immediately if you have any concerns related to the current COVID-19 crisis.

Latest bargaining update. We definitely felt we achieved a little momentum in our negotiations last week, which we hope to build on as we continue to work through what continue to be a number of significant differences on some of our core priority proposals.  

Most importantly, we finally started to make some new progress on some of the proposals that will help us establish and maintain a strong union beyond these contract negotiations. In particular, we made progress on Grievance and Arbitration and on Union Access and Rights. The Grievance and Arbitration article is one of the more important provisions in our negotiations since it lays out the process to enforce our rights under the contract, including access to a neutral arbitrator if necessary. Our Union Access and Rights article is important because it is one of the articles that can help ensure that the Union has relevant information and access to new employees, as well as resources, necessary for a strong and representative union. However, while the University made the most responsive proposals so far on these topics, they continue to propose certain unusual provisions that would place limitations on our ability to enforce our rights and represent ourselves that do not exist for the other unions at Columbia. We hope to make more progress on these topics this week.

We also had somewhat productive discussions on Professional Development. The University finally gave us a counterproposal on this topic and we moved closer to agreement on an article committing the University to maintain support for professional development programs, as well as establishing the right of researchers to develop an Individual Development Plan (IDP) with feedback from their supervisor and to receive at least one written performance review each year.  

We have bargaining sessions scheduled on Thursday and Friday this week and will keep you posted on our progress.

Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee

Bargaining during the crisis

The CPW-UAW bargaining committee continues working toward a fair agreement–see our latest bargaining update is below.  

We want to start by acknowledging all the Postdoc/Associate Researchers and many others across Columbia who continue to devote themselves to aiding our community through the COVID-19 crisis in numerous ways. Thank you. We also remind everyone to fill out our COVID-19 survey so we can continue to monitor and potentially help address related workplace challenges. As we all consider how to respond in this extraordinary time, and as the University increases redeployment plans, we encourage everyone to share thoughts and questions. If you have immediate concerns, please email us at columbiapostdocunion@gmail.com.

Bargaining update from April 1 and 3

We met twice last week with the Columbia administration bargaining team. Though we continued to make progress overall, the increasing magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis certainly adds new considerations for our negotiations and timeline. It is now clear, for example, that we will continue negotiating past April 6, so we have started scheduling more sessions deeper into April.  

While both sides are committed to continued negotiations, the administration team has increasingly started pointing to the crisis as a basis for taking a hard line on some recently discussed issues. They’re also hinting at future uncertainty regarding some of the economic issues involved in bargaining. We certainly share a strong desire to finish negotiations in a timely manner, but it will still take significant movement by Columbia on some of the core disputes.  

After last week, we are very close to finalizing our International Researchers article. We are also close to agreement on Appointments and have finalized language covering Vacation, both of which are contingent on resolving our Paid Leaves article as part of an ongoing package proposal. We also moved somewhat closer to agreement on Union Rights, though the University continues to propose that our union be treated differently than other unions on campus when it comes to access to resources to enable effective representation.

Overall, the administration’s approach continues to present some major obstacles to an overall agreement. For example:

  • Though we finally had a somewhat meaningful discussion on Professional Development last week, the University has so far made no counter proposal on that topic, even though we made our original proposal more than six months ago.  
  • The University has made no new counter proposals on Non-Discrimination in nearly four months, failing to address numerous core components of that article that would enhance researchers’ rights under our contract
  • The University continues to propose grievance and arbitration procedures that would hinder our ability to enforce our rights efficiently and elevate the university’s over-reliance on outside lawyers
  • At times, the University reverts to a dismissive approach to our proposals. For example, in response to our continued concerns about potential abusive use of short appointment offers, the University responded, “What are you going to do, turn down the job because it’s too short?” While this kind of condescending and dismissive attitude hinders productive bargaining conversations, it serves as a potent reminder of the very reason an overwhelming majority of us voted to unionize in the first place.
  • The University also continues to evade providing basic information we requested one month ago that would enable us to more effectively evaluate their position on economic bargaining topics.

With your support behind us, we will continue to work through these challenges. Given that we have narrowed the overall number of disputes in recent sessions, we remain optimistic that we can reach a fair agreement in the near future. Let us know if you have any questions.Best,

CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee