May 19th, 10:45 am @ Studebaker, 469

For background – this session wasn’t on our original schedule, but was recently added to the schedule – planned as a special session targeted to discuss the topic of childcare given that due to Columbia’s denial on hybrid bargainign has made difficult for the mom on our bargaining committee to attend all the sessions.

We arrived at 10:45 am. The Columbia administration arrived around 10:55 am, and we got started. This was a smaller session – at the start we had 4 of our bargaining team present, as well as our UAW servicing representative, and 3 members sitting in on the session. The Columbia team had just 3 of their members.

As an opening statement from our side, our bargaining committee member Sumaira started with an opening statement emphasizing the need for better childcare support. She presented key points relating to the need for childcare support for postdocs – to better support parents, especially as a support for women in science at a stage in their career when we know there are various pressures that often push women out of academia around the postdoc stage. Sumaira also outlined the challenges of childcare when working at Columbia – including high costs of childcare in New York City, pressures that mean that families often live further away and have to commute, and the challenges of scheduling and maintaining lab research when you have childcare needs and available options are often economically unavailable. As part of this overview, our bargaining team presented the proposed changes relating to childcare, which include a 10,000$ childcare subsidy available per child, a demand that Columbia maintain access to sponsored backup childcare programs, having on-site childcare centers at each campus, and support for an adoption assistance program. 

The Columbia side responded, in a response given by Dan Driscoll. The preamble included their statements that they think childcare is important for all parents working in the university, and that they have made commitments over the years, like: 

But… “that it’s a complicated issue”. They again stated a common response – that they believe one policy for all officers is the best approach. They wrap up the responses basically refusing the demands, not stating that “this is not  discarding what you said” and “thank you for your thoughts”. 

After the initial statements and responses from each side, a series of follow up were said, largely from the union side presenting arguments for better childcare support, including:

  • The need for childcare support was re-emphasized, highlighting the specific needs of our unit – our members cannot afford childcare (we are the lowest paid class of officers), have to work long days or weekends frequently when childcare is more expensive, and this is a sensitive time, especially for women in science.
  • We are aware that other institutions offer much better support, and that potential postdocs choose these institutions over us for these reasons.
  • It was pointed out that Columbia is consistently building new buildings, but not investing in childcare or adding things like daycare centers to their new buildings.

After this series of clear and passionate statements on the need for childcare support from our side, the Columbia side did not respond with anything – looking at each other to see if anyone was going to say anything. 

As the session was coming to a close, our side asked about their compensation offer. The general schedule is that we should expect their compensation-related offers at the next bargaining session, on Tuesday, May 23rd. We asked them directly about this – and they answered with their usual non-committal response that “we’ll see where we are at”. The session then adjourned. 

We had a brief caucus / discussion after, including the following discussions: 

  • The general feeling was that we presented a strong case, and that our BC members made clear & strong points that the admin had nothing really to respond substantively to it all, and only reiterated their position of not changing benefits to specific groups. We think we made a strong emphasis that this is an issue we care about, and gave a show of strength that we expect that their counter-offers will include offers on childcare.
  • We discussed that this is a topic we can put pressure on, it’s a good “campaign” topic that we could, for example, write an op-ed out (or similar) to build pressure. 
  • We briefly discussed how this topic strongly affects not just current parents but postdocs who are often of an age to be considering having children. The lack of resources means that postdocs often have to consider perhaps not having children or leaving academia in order to be able to afford to have a family.
  • There was also some discussion of organizing with parent members, as we know it is difficult for parents to schedule time and commit to meeting and organizing on this topic.

End of bargaining session #6


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