June 29th, 10:30 AM @ Studebaker, Room 469
Informal Organizing Committee notes
Take home message – CU Admin continues to delay compensation discussion. They do not want to include Child care benefits in our contract. They also don’t want to include any protections to authorship and Intellectual Property resulting from our work. During this session CU Admin wanted us to finalize non-economics before discussing economics so we clarified our position on all pending issues. They gave us an updated non-economic offer by the end of the session.
The CU Admin arrived at 10:45 AM. First topic of discussion: Childcare benefits
CU Admin, after reiterating their commitment to childcare for all officers, put forward their position: the current child care benefit will be raised from 4000$ to $5000, maintaining it as a non-taxable benefit. But, this won’t go into our contract (which means they can change it at any point as they did with retirement contributions in 2020).
CU Admin team also continues explaining that this benefit has become expensive for the university because recent IRS rule changes made more Officers eligible by raising the maximum allowed income to receive this benefit.
We are requesting that childcare benefits be provided per kid, not per family. This is more fair because it does not place a higher burden on families with more kids and we have seen other researchers with similar job duties to us secure such a benefit, e.g Graduate Student Workers.
We made the point that because postdocs/ARSs frequently need to work after hours or on weekends our childcare cost is higher than for other Officers. Also we are at the lowest pay level for all Officers of Research at CU. We further made the point that childcare disproportionately affects women and in many cases forces them to rethink staying in academic research, which could be contributing to the gender gap seen in tenured faculty at CU.
CU Admin argues that the gender gap among Faculty at Columbia is not that bad…[For additional info, our BC member who is defending the need to have higher childcare and is a mom herself, had to bring her kid to the session and will need to leave the session earlier to pick up her other kid because she doesn’t have childcare support.]
CU Admin says again that in principle, every issue we bring up is valid, and that there is flexibility in some economic areas of the contract, but the base salary that we proposed is unreasonable. The Faculty members in CU Admin team said that with our proposed salary they will have to stop hiring because there is no money for postdocs/ARSs.
We reinstate again that as we have said many times our minimum salaries can move if we see movement in other economic areas of the contract. We want to see more commitment on the table from Columbia’s Central Money, not research grants, to support postdocs/ARSs expenses (in the form of childcare, housing stipends, healthcare benefits and financial support for maintaining legal status in the U.S)
We also explained the problems with their current offer which has no consideration for experience based raises.
We agreed to take a break at 11:57am.
We reconvened at 3:42pm. For the rest of the afternoon we discussed outstanding non-economic issues:
In the current contract, the university recognizes union member eligibility as defined in the “current faculty handbook”, which is ambiguous and subject to change at any time. This recently happened when the University removed postdocs from the Law and Journalism schools from our union.
We had concerns about what “current faculty handbook” constitutes: what is “current?” What if it is changed? We would like to verify that there is a locked-in version such that CU Admin can’t change at will the composition of our unit.
Admin will discuss this.
CU Admin communicated to us in previous sessions that employment status of fellows varies — some terms are subject to the terms of the fellowship and some are at the discretion of the university.
We ask whether CU Admin would be open to add to our contract a meeting with members who receive a Fellowship in which the university clearly outlines any changes to benefits/compensation that would arise from them accepting that fellowship. This meeting would allow postdocs to be better informed before accepting fellowships and give them a platform to express their needs and receive commitments from the university to either keep them as employees or compensate them for any lost benefits.
Both sides agree that transparency is the ultimate goal here, so that postdocs understand what is at stake in their employment status when they accept a position.
Admin wants to know what is at stake in such a meeting.
Union maintains that if you lose a benefit, you should not lose out on potential compensation — transparency, yes, but also equality. The goal of such a meeting would be to achieve both transparency and equality — to find an arrangement that would ameliorate the loss of benefits seen by fellows. This is an idea to float to see how open the uni would be to this as an alternative.
Admin says that Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute does something similar, such as “top-ups” to reach equity within a department. Sometimes these achieve commensurate compensation, but not always.
CU Admin will consider this benefit issue and return to us
In response to CU Admin the Union suggests a clause to be included which spells out specific examples of misconduct that warrant the discharge (firing) of postdocs/ARS.
Admin will take this into consideration
Admin is not comfortable with having a hardship fund for just internationals, “it’s a hard no”.
We have expressed several times that if the University wants to keep at their discretion the duration and type of Visas offered to postdocs/ARSs, there has to be a mechanism by which Internationals don’t have an added economic burden based on the university’s decision. It’s not uncommon that a postdoc/ARS is forced to go back to their home country and pay Visa fees yearly (which can add up to several thousands of dollars per renewal) just because the administrators decide to give one year visas.
We will propose alternative language that does not demand a dedicated fund, per se, but which ensures that Internationals are not economically penalized by maintaining their immigration status.
Union proposes to make some changes in Section 2, regarding authorship rights: postdocs/ARSs ‘shall have rights […] in keeping with academic norms’ – this is already in UConn postdoc contract and has been Tentatively Agreed by Mt Sinai Administration in their postdoc contract.
Admin will discuss
Workspace and Materials – Misc
Regarding bathroom equity — We asked whether CU Admin would be open to move the protections regarding gender neutral bathrooms to be included as part of the proposed DEI working group.
Admin will discuss
The Union has included the definition of bullying that our members along with Faculty, Grad Student Workers, and Admin worked hard to agree upon. It seems the admin only wants to include a link, which means they could change the definition at their discretion.
They will discuss and return
We reinstate that current Columbia IP Policies deny the voice of researchers — admin requested testimony from postdocs/ARSs, we provided them and they revealed what we claimed they would:
The University does not even honor its own policies, but puts preference on financial commitments with outside parties. This is contrary to academic freedom.
For example, The Columbia Center for Iranian Studies (CCIS) flagship project, The Encyclopedia Iranica, will be replaced by a private foundation TOMORROW.
The ARS and other researchers at CCIS who have worked on this project for years have lost all property and control over their research as a result. It is clear that we need more protections for the work we do at the University as it’s critical to our career.
CU admin has refused to even discuss IP with us.
We hand them a presentation prepared by our BC with a host of simple suggestions, modeled after policies currently in place at other institutions.
We are in conversation with researchers in other institutions, and are aware of successes at places such as MIT in assuring greater equality in IP/authorship rights and know such changes are possible in healthy negotiations.
Admin understands our position as being one of disagreement, which is within our rights, but they are unwilling to change IP policy in the context of a labor agreement. They believe it is the jurisdiction of a greater body which includes, but not exclusive to, representatives from the university and ourselves. They believe that is the appropriate avenue — not a union contract.
Our perspective is that these problems require solutions, and the solutions are possible here and now. Our perspective is that others have reached agreements this way. We are open to other paths, but CU Admin can’t cut off the discussion.
Admin insists it’s an academic issue at heart — “authorship is academic.” and as such they are not legally obligated to discuss it with us.
We insist that it is a subject of working conditions — what happens to someone’s work — and how someone’s work is handled very much affects our work and career.
Around 5:30 PM we informed CU Admin that many members of our team will have to break to set up for the Membership Meeting but three members of our bargaining team will stay to receive and hopefully report back from CU Admin counter offer.
Around 7:49 PM we got CU Admin Offer
More details in the next session on June 30th last before contract expiration!
Around 8:00 PM the session ends.
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