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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT STRIKE VOTES AND STRIKES
- Why is a Strike Authorization Vote Being Considered and what are our contract demands?
- What is a Strike Authorization Vote?
- How does the Strike Authorization Vote work?
- Why would we take a strike authorization vote?
- What is a Strike? And will the University care if we go into Strike?
- Who else has gone on strike?
- What happens if we do strike?
- If I vote yes will I be required to go on strike?
- If a strike is called, will I be required to walk out?
- Am I allowed to participate in this vote if I am an international researcher?
- But what about my visa?
- How long would a strike last? What would it entail? When would it start and end?
- What should I do with my live test subjects during a strike?
- Isn’t going on strike only hurting ourselves because our research would suffer?
- Can I be fired or disciplined for going on strike?
- I want things to get better, but not enough to jeopardize my research with a strike.
*1. Why is a Strike Authorization Vote Being Considered and what are our demands?
Because of Columbia’s intransigence on certain core bargaining issues, over 600 Postdoctoral and Associate Researchers signed a petition to the admisntration and new president, urging Columbia to reach a fair contract.
- Significant raises in salaries and benefits, which must include institutional support.
Our union bargaining committee has made numerous proposals on these topics: yearly
raises tied to inflation, housing stipends, and more affordable healthcare amongst others. One of our key demands is to receive more economic support from Columbia University without charging it all on research grants.
- Option to recognize postdoctoral fellows as employees, not independent contractors, such
that they have access to the same benefits package as all other officers of research.
- Enhanced childcare benefits that address the high cost of raising children in NYC, with a more equitable benefit which is per child and not per family as won by Columbia Grad Students workers (SWC-UAW 2710) in their recent contract.
If the administration fails to meet our reasonable requests, we will have no choice but to hold a strike authorization vote.
2. What is a Strike Authorization Vote?
A strike authorization vote is a way for members of our union to vote to give our bargaining team the authority to call a strike. Strike authorization votes have been an important way to make progress towards negotiating critical improvements for thousands of academic workers around the country. This vote does not necessarily mean that we will go on strike.
3. How does the Strike Authorization Vote work?
We would hold a secret ballot vote and if at least ⅔ vote “Yes”, the bargaining committee would be authorized to make the decision to call a strike if they consider it to be justified in reaching a fair contract.
4. Why would we take a strike authorization vote?
Hundreds of postdoctoral and Associate Researchers voting “Yes” to support our bargaining team by giving it the authority to call a strike could send a powerful message to the University. Our bargaining committee has been meeting with Columbia for 15 sessions and so far Columbia has been extremely resistant to making progress on core priorities such as fair salaries adjusted for inflation, childcare and other ways for the institution to support us economically and equity for for postdoctoral research fellows. While we hope the University will move towards reaching a fair agreement, demonstrating our willingness to exercise our right to strike could be an effective tool to reach an agreement.
5. What is a Strike? And will the University care if we go into Strike?
A strike is a coordinated stoppage of work aimed at convincing an employer to meet employee demands. In our case, Postdocs and Associate Researchers would stop our paid work doing research in order to send a message to the administration to make progress on core priorities and reach a fair agreement. Our bargaining committee would only call a strike after a democratic vote authorizing them to do so.
And Yes, the University will care! Postdocs and Associate researchers perform critical work every day. Additionally, a strike would be highly visible showing the solidarity of +1,600 postdocs and ARSs, and potentially thousands of Columbia members and of other community members who pledge to honor our picket line. A strike will attract media attention and political support for our right to fair working conditions. Members of other unions can support us in a variety of ways. The combination of stopping research, the media coverage, and the political pressure generated by a strike would absolutely impact Columbia University.
6. Who else has gone on strike?
Academic unions across the country have been going on strike for years, winning massive gains. Postdoc unions, and academic unions that include postdocs, are part of this rising tide of academic workers who are willing to strike to get the wages and benefits that they deserve.
- November, 2022: Thousands of postdocs in the Union of Postdocs and Academic Researchers at the Universities of California (Local 5810) went on strike, and won a contract that will see their salaries increase to $70,000 by the end of their contract.
- June, 2023: Over two thousand University of Washington Postdocs and Research Scientists/Engineers (Local 4121) go on strike for a week, winning massive raises across the board.
7. What happens if we do strike?
We would stop our work and also engage in organized picketing—protesting at various locations around the campuses in order to make our action visible and effective. Additionally, we could ask that other unionized workers who are able to refuse to work with the school; for example, delivery drivers might refuse to cross our picket lines to bring packages to campus as many did during the SWC-UAW strike in 2021.
8. If I vote yes will I be required to go on strike?
No. This vote only authorizes the bargaining team to call a strike in the future if circumstances warrant. A strong “yes” vote would send a powerful message to Columbia that we will not tolerate further delays, and increase the likelihood that Columbia would bargain in good faith to reach a fair agreement – eliminating the need for a strike.
- UC: Strong majorities of postdocs at UC have voted to authorize a strike in order to settle each of the three contracts they negotiated without having to strike.
- UC: 2500 Associate researchers at UC recently voted to authorize a strike in order to successfully reach an agreement without having to strike
- Columbia: Graduate research and teaching assistants voted to authorize a strike, went on strike, and were preparing to strike again, in order to successfully get Columbia to agree to bargain.
9. If a strike is called, will I be required to walk out?
No. A “yes” vote does not obligate you to participate in a strike. That said, should the bargaining team choose to call one in the future it will only be successful with mass participation.
10. Am I allowed to participate in this vote if I am an international researcher?
Yes, you are entitled to participate in all such votes. As for participation in a strike, US labor law applies equally to all postdoctoral researchers, regardless of your immigration status.
11. But what about my visa?
It is illegal to retaliate against striking workers, including threatening your visa status. International and undocumented workers can participate in union activities, just as domestic workers do.
12. How long would a strike last? What would it entail? When would it start and end?
There are many options for what a strike could look like, and we would decide those questions collectively to ensure the greatest level of participation. The length of a strike is decided by membership. When a majority of members feel that we have gotten the best contract we can get, members can vote to close the strike.
13. What should I do with my live test subjects during a strike?
It’s ultimately Columbia’s responsibility to make sure that any basic lab maintenance happens during a strike. There are also ways that you can prepare for a potential strike. These plans could include advance-planning your experiments or informing supervisors that they may need to make alternative plans to take care of these subjects.
14. Isn’t going on strike only hurting ourselves because our research would suffer?
Figuring out the best strategy to make a strike by Postdocs and Associate Researchers successful is a challenge, but this would be the task of researchers like yourself at each campus. It would be your and your co-workers collective choice whether to authorize a strike and what to determine what a strike would look like in order to ensure the greatest participation possible. We can only win what we’re willing to fight for.
15. Can I be fired or disciplined for going on strike?
The law protects our right to strike and makes any retaliation illegal. Beyond these legal protections, the more people who participate in a potential strike, the more powerful it would be and the less likely anyone would experience unlawful retaliation.
16. I want things to get better, but not enough to jeopardize my research with a strike.
We would all prefer to reach an agreement. A strike is a last resort. Unfortunately, Columbia University’s bargaining committee has forced us to a strike authorization vote because of their insultingly low offers, and their unfair labor practices. Having a robust strike authorization vote will prove to Columbia that we’re serious about being fairly compensated for our work. Tell someone to vote in the Strike Authorization Vote today!