May 3rd, 1pm @ Hammer Building, LL210.
- Members of the two bargaining teams arrived (Postdoc Union, Administration 13 mins late). Negotiations started.
- 35 of us are in the room right now fighting for a better contract. There are 25 postdocs in the room standing behind our Bargaining Team of 10.
- First on the agenda: Housing. Dan Driscoll (Administration team, VP of HR) made a long introduction saying they don’t want to discuss housing because they are not legally obligated.
- They said: We can discuss housing, but it’s not going to happen, not in a contract.
- Our BC tried to explain that housing conditions affect working conditions, that when you are trying to perform your research it is hard to not have secure housing, and it is difficult to come new to this country or the city and find an apartment without a credit score or without a guarantor, needing 40x rent for annual income. If they want postdocs to agree to a contract they need to agree to make progress in housing!!!
- The Administration is refusing to provide more data on Housing: number of units available, cost of operation, and profit they make off our rent when postdocs have CU housing. If NYU provides subsidized housing $1500 for a studio in the village, why can’t Columbia subsidize rent more Uptown?
- We had our first break: The Administration left the room, we had a vibrant discussion. Issues that members brought up during caucusing:
- Administration is refusing to talk about housing. They are not answering our questions. They are not putting specific proposals down on anything. They are not really engaging in bargaining, they “merely going through the notions” with no intention of reaching an agreement (this is called surface level bargaining. It is illegal for them to do that!).
- They are saying that a lot of our issues can be solved through OPA, outside contract negotiations. We have tried for years!!! And generations of postdocs have tried before us! This is the only way!
- How do we force the university to discuss compensation sooner rather than later? They are not making an offer for anything, but they also want to push compensation to the end. We need to increase the pressure.
- From our UAW service rep: if we can prove that housing affects our working conditions then it can be bargained. It is a really old law meant for factory workers, and we should not buy into their argument that they don’t have to bargain on housing.
- Second session started: Appointments and reappointments. We explained the struggle of not being appointed on time. No pay, email and ID cards deactivated for a month mostly, but sometimes up to 3-4 months!
- We explained that Postdoc Fellows need to be considered employees of the University. Right now, they are considered contractors, and their salary is the same as other postdocs but are taxed higher and lose benefits.
- The Administration first said they are obligated by Federal law to treat Fellows as contractors. Then when our BC said that other universities don’t do that, and that even Columbia in some cases classifies postdocs with fellowships as employees then they said that each university they are advised by their own tax counsel, and they have to follow their own counselors.
- The BC emphasized that the NIH is now recommending that fellows have full employee status and thus a fellowship should be no reason not to extend employee benefits. Columbia seemed unaware of those recommendations, disputed them, and went back to their first argument, they have to follow their tax counsel.
- The Administration’s reply: They have changed their policies for re-appointments and think that it will be successful. They notify the postdoc that their re-appointment is coming up 150 days early (we have plenty of cases where we notified HR plenty in advance and we still didn’t get re-appointed on time). They are also trying to centralize the system, and have lists of postdocs whose appointments are coming up, and claim to be monitoring the Schools if the paperwork for those reappointments doesn’t come in. But have we seen a difference? Shouldn’t they provide the data that their policy change has been effective, if that’s their claim?
- We provided 161 pages of emails of postdocs trying to deal with HR over re-appointments at delays.
- They don’t want to provide guarantees that re-appointment will be processed 30 days before our annual appointment is up! They say that there might be unintended consequences (sic). Like what if money appears one day before a re-appointment is up, shouldn’t they still be appointed? We offered to look at exceptions if they give us specifics.
- We explained how having longer durations of visas would help postdocs. Now we have to pay renewal fees every year because forms are issued only for one year. They really don’t want to provide this due to some alleged “unintended consequences” that might happen but they refused to say today. We reinstated the very concrete and very real consequences that postdocs experience right now due to unnecessary yearly renewal.
- Tax issues: For example taxes being wrongfully withheld for SS, Medicare and Medicaid for some J1 visa holders (first two years) and many other issues
- Admin told us that they have been responsive when we tell them, and that it is the postdocs job to keep bringing these issues to HR. How else would they be aware? Well, we are telling them on the bargaining table!
- We replied that we are not paid to do their job, that their incompetence is a burden on the postdocs.
- In closing, we made clear that the Administration is following an aggressive strategy: waiting until the last minute for a last offer on compensation with a strict deadline on June 30th when our contract expires. And that they aim to force us to accept a bad contract.
- Planning next sessions: Admin wants to spend next week (two sessions) discussing language of other articles, but non economic items. We asked: When are we starting the discussion about compensation? We are pushing hard to bring conversation to compensation as soon as possible. We have been working on this for months. For us it is important to know the Administration’s compensation proposal as soon as possible.
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