May 31st, 10:30 am @ Hammer, Room LL1-110

Informal Organizing Committee notes

We arrived at 10:30 am. The Columbia administration arrived around 10:45 am, and we got started. This was a long session focusing mostly on non-economic articles. We came closer to an agreement on some Articles (Vacation, Holidays, and Sections of other Articles), but CU Administration is still resisting basic protections on others (International Employees, Discharge and Discipline, Power-based Harassment, Union Access and others).

First, we present our counter-proposals on non -economic issues:

  • Accept their offer on Vacation:
    • Keep status quo for Postdocs/ARSs with over 3 years in the University.
    • For Postdocs/ARSs with less than 3 years at Columbia, cap at 23 days the amount of unused vacation days they can get paid out.
  • Accept their offer on Holidays:
    • We win an extra pay holiday or personal day (depending on campus).
  • Partially accept some of the language the offered on International Employees:
    • Accept their language to discuss issues of Int’l employees – blue ink.
    • Insist the Postdoc/ARS has the right to have the most beneficial Visa (not only longer in response to their comments) and to request a meeting with ISSO/HR and union rep to discuss that (Section 9) – red.
    • Insist on the International Fund (Section 10) – red.

Conversation on the article International Employee: 

  • We accept their offer for the formation of a committee with the Administration and Union representatives that will meet 4 times a year to discuss and resolve issues that International postdocs and ARS face. We also propose a Section that the University “will make best efforts to provide the most beneficial Visa arrangement”, and that the worker has a say in conversations on Visa, and that “The employee will have the right to have a Union representative in those conversations”. 
  • CU Admin thinks that this language is problematic and they don’t want to guarantee even “best efforts” for the most beneficial visa arrangement.
  • We want to prevent situations where workers are given one year short visas for no good reason, burdening them with renewal fees and international travel to renew.
  • CU Admin wants us to remove the sentence: “The University will make best efforts to provide the most beneficial Visa arrangement for the employee.”
  • CU Admin insists that there is always a valid reason when Visa renewals are for 1 year, but then they say it is a business decision and it is their right as an Employer. They also object to having a Union rep present in the conversation.
  • CU Admin insists that the University welcomes international workers, and has their best interest. They are not comfortable with the presence of Union representatives during Visa decisions for individual workers. They believe that allowing the worker to ask for a union representative in meeting with the ISSO will burden the office. 

They are making the argument that we can inform our members on visa issues independent of the contract.  However they are refusing provisions that allow us to have a well functioning union, and fair representation. Which brings us to presenting our counter proposals on:

  • We are presenting ARTICLE 25: Union Dues
    • Accept their changes to our language on Section 12.
    • Insist on having every Postdoc contributing to our Union (Union shop).
  • We are presenting ARTICLE 24: Union Access, Rights, and Activity
    • Accept that Union orientations won’t be mandatory.
    • Accept that the Union doesn’t need to be included in the general employee orientations (section 6).
    • Insist CU University must provide new employees with a union orientation package (section 6).
    • Insist CU University must provide us with more information related to the members but making it contingent on what they have (section 8).

CU Admin asked to caucus (break) in order to discuss our counters. CU Admin is glad to see that we are moving the process forward by having counter-proposals. They want to go back to their non-economic proposals after lunch break, and come back with new language hoping for a Tentative Agreement in some articles.

Conversation on our non-economic counter proposals: 

  • CU Admin believes we can reach a TA (tentative agreement) for Holidays article.
  • For the International employees article: They do not accept the International Employees Assistance Fund and for Section 9 they only accept that: “Upon employee’s request, ISSO and/or the corresponding HR office will meet with the employee to discuss their different Visa status”.  
    • Without a Union rep in the meeting, and reject language that the University will be making best efforts to provide the most beneficial Visa.
    • They don’t want to get to a situation where a worker grieves that they were not given the most beneficial Visa.
    • We are suggesting revised language: “The University will make best efforts to consult with the employee to provide a mutually beneficial Visa arrangement. Upon employee’s request, ISSO and/or the corresponding HR office will meet with the employee to discuss their different Visa options. Upon employee’s request a Union representative may be present in the aforementioned conversations.”
    • But CU Admin is still resisting. Their new objection: If the Union is entitled to send a representative in a conversation, the ISSO might feel that they are in a confrontation, and then they might not be able to serve the postdocs as a more “neutral” party.
  • We are saying: One of the reasons we want the International Assistance Fund is to cover expenses of sub-optimal visas. To pay for fees and expenses incurred by renewals. They are saying that the problem with the International Employees Assistance Fund is that it is a financial ask, and we have too many of those…

CU Admin refuses basic protections that would eliminate the need to spend more money. And then, they complain that we ask too much in economics…

CU Admin promised to counter with a new non-economic proposal. We had a one hour break for lunch. 

Day 8 CU Admin non-economic counter-proposal: read here.

Conversation on CU Admin’s counter proposal:

  • They are backtracking on one issue that is important to us: On Union Dues, they are removing their previous edit which would have made our union an open shop by making “fair share” payments optional (edit in Section 5). That is a win for us!
  • On APPOINTMENTS: We want the university to provide material from the Union along the appointment letter, so far they are refusing that.
  • On DISCHARGE AND DISCIPLINE, they are accepting language on Section 3 (when discharged a worker can request for the University to provide to the Union copies of the Employee’s performance review if available).  However, they are NOT accepting that in case of discharge, they will provide proof of why there is just cause for such action. 
    • This is what we want in the contract: “The union should be provided with all the materials regarding the investigation that led to the disciplinary action before the University is able to take any action.”
  • In GRIEVANCE AND ARBITRATION: We will not make a counter about the 15 days yet. On the proposed Arbitrators, they accepted our suggestions for Ralph Berger, and we accepted their suggestion for Stuart Brauchner. We will suggest one more: Margaret Leibowitz.
  • On Holidays: We are getting closer to  a TA: Juneteenth will be a new holiday, President’s Day will be removed and replaced by an additional personal day for CUIMC workers.
  • On Union Dues and Access: We need the CU Administration to properly inform new employees about the union! 
  • On VACATIONS: We are close to TA. That would mean that we accept their language that for workers with less than 3 years, they can receive pay in lieu of unused vacation up to 23 days. For workers that have been at Columbia more than 3 years nothing changes: we can accumulate up to 23 unused vacation days from the previous year and receive pay for all the unused vacation days we have.
  • On WORKPLACE AND MATERIALS: We want to include language about gender neutral bathrooms: “The University will work with local facilities management to label existing gender-neutral bathrooms in office, classroom and lab buildings. Gender-neutral bathrooms shall be posted on a central website. The University will not prevent employees from using a workplace bathroom appropriate to the employee’s gender identity”. Also, we want the University to allow reasonable requests for remote work.
  • On MISCELLANEOUS: We still want protections against power based harassment!

We will counter two articles. Here is our proposals: 

CU Admin took a break to look at our offers.

Conversation on our counter-proposals:

  • GRIEVANCE AND ARBITRATION: On the proposed Arbitrators, CU Admin accepted our suggestion and we accepted their suggestion.
    • Sometimes when a worker is being discharged, the University takes away access to the workers email, and then there cannot be a balanced investigation on the reasons the postdocs is being fired.
    • The University can nitpick conversations from the workers email to justify the discharge, while the worker does not have access to their documents in order to make the case.
    • We want to even the field for the worker.
    • Regardless, the administration is required to prove just cause in case of any dismissal. But the Admin’s practice makes the grievance process longer and more complicated.
    • CU Admin says that they only need to justify discharge or discipline ONLY through the grievance process, they don’t need to justify disciplinary action immediately to the worker when the action is being taken. They are saying that the worker is “Guilty until proven innocent”.
    • CU Admin says that they are employers at-will: they can dismiss an employee for any reason, and without warning, as long as they think that it is supported by just cause. They say that if we disagree for a specific dismissal, we  have to go to grievance and arbitration.
    • CU Admin says that they reserve the right to first discipline or dismiss workers, and THEN they investigate, so they might not even have the materials to support just cause when the worker is being discharged.
    • CU Admin says: They have the burden to provide just cause and they will meet that burden, but they have to protect the university and take disciplinary action whenever they feel like it, without need to justify.
    • To recenter this conversation (that went in circles), note from OC: We already have the contractual protection that the University can discipline or discharge a postdoc/ARS ONLY for just cause. That already provides us with a lot of protections from arbitrary actions from our PIs or the Administration. You can read about just cause protections in general, or check our instagram post here. The administration is just refusing to guarantee straightforward access to proof that they are following just cause, and they want the worker  to go through the grievance process in order to fight any of their disciplinary actions. If anyone finds themselves in a situation where there is a conflict or disagreement, don’t be afraid to reach out to the Union for assistance.
    • CU Admin does not want to include language on gender neutral bathrooms. They believe that they are already doing it, and that this does not belong in the contract.
    • We are trying to explain that we want language like that in our contract that will be empowering for our members, so that they feel included.
    • Adding a clause like that would show a commitment with a population of workers that has been growing in the past years (transgender and nonbinary) and does not always feel welcome at Columbia.
    • CU Admin wants us to first acknowledge in the contract the AMAZING job that the university has been making on LGBTQI issues, and how they are leaders in the city and the state 
    • On remote work provisions: CU Admin promised to look at the issue and come back to us.

End of session 5:45pm. 

Next session will be on Thursday June 8th, tentatively at 1pm location at CUMC (probably Hammer)


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