FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT STRIKE VOTES AND STRIKES
- Why is a Strike Authorization Vote Being Considered?
- What is a Strike Authorization Vote?
- How does the Strike Authorization Vote work?
- Why would we go on strike?
- What is a 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?
- How long would a strike last? What would it entail? When would it start and end?
- Will the University care if we go on 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?
Because of Columbia’s intransigence on certain core bargaining issues, more than 150 Postdoctoral and Associate Researchers, from a majority of departments comprising 90% of the workforce, recently signed an open letter to the administration, urging Columbia to reach a fair contract by the end of June. If the administration fails to reach a fair agreement, the letters signers said they would have no choice but to insist that the CPW-UAW bargaining committee hold a strike authorization vote and committed to organizing all of our colleagues toward a strong vote.
2. What is a Strike Authorization Vote?
A strike authorization vote is a way for researchers to vote to give our bargaining team the authority to call a strike if circumstances justify. The vote does not mean that we will necessarily go on strike. Strike authorization votes have been an important way to make progress towards negotiating critical improvements for thousands of academic workers around the country.
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 go on strike?
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 almost a year and a half and so far Columbia has been extremely resistant to making progress on core priorities such as protections against harassment and discrimination, fair salaries, 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?
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.
6. 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. If social distancing regulations were still in effect, we would collectively discuss ways of demonstrating support publicly while keeping everyone safe. 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 GWC-UAW strike in the spring of 2018.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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 if the bargaining committee considered that a strike might be necessary to reach a fair agreement, in order to ensure the greatest level of participation.
11. Will the University care if we go on strike?
Yes. We perform critical work every day. Additionally, a strike would be highly visible – attracting media attention and political support. Members of other unions could support us by choosing not to cross picket lines. The combination of disruption, media coverage, and political pressure generated by a strike would absolutely impact Columbia.
One of the reasons Columbia agreed to bargain was to avoid a second strike by our graduate worker colleagues, and only after we also agreed not to strike until April 6, 2020. This shows that the university cares if we go on strike and wants to avoid a strike if possible.
12. 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.
13. 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. As a recent example, more than 1500 Columbia graduate workers participated in a one week strike in 2018 and no one reported any such retaliation.
14. 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 tactic that is a last resort in negotiations. Preparing for, and potentially striking is effective because it puts pressure on the administration to resolve disputes in an expedient manner.