Thanks to all our colleagues who joined us at our lively bargaining session with Columbia on Monday.  We spent most of this week’s session addressing Columbia’s concerns about our proposal for stronger protections against bullying, discrimination, and harassment, as well as explaining how short, insecure appointments and inefficient reappointment procedures can disrupt our ability to focus on our research.  We exchanged a number of other proposals as well. See below for more details.

We began our session with one of our international researcher colleagues vividly describing the (unfortunately not uncommon) experience of working without pay due to Columbia’s bureaucratic delays in processing appointments. In this individual’s case, he arrived, along with his pregnant wife, to start work and had to pay rent and thousands of dollars in prenatal health care costs out-of-pocket for the first few months while receiving no income from Columbia. He further described the cost, stress, and disruption to his research caused by Columbia’s insistence on short-term appointments, requiring him to return to his home country annually to renew his visa and ensure that his wife was able to work.  We hope that his story helped show Columbia that our proposals for longer appointments and flexibility on visa sponsorship would help us focus on research and make Columbia a more family-friendly and inclusive community of scholars.

After our colleague’s testimony, we had a lengthy discussion around our Non-Discrimination and Harassment proposal. Unfortunately, rather than engage in substantive discussion of the main principles behind our proposal, Columbia argued that we had either not read or not understood Columbia’s current policies on harassment, that PARs do not experience difficulties under the current system, that the option of a neutral third-party is unnecessary, and that Columbia is already “a national leader” in addressing sexual harassment – in spite of numerous high-profile cases of misconduct and the fact that strengthening current policies was one of the many reasons a majority of PARs voted for a union.

After hearing their objections, we made clear that stronger protections against discrimination and harassment was a major reason we formed a union and that we intend to continue this discussion until we reach an agreement on fair protections. We felt even more strongly about our proposal having just seen how contractual protections, support, and advocacy from her union helped UCLA postdoc Sandra Koch win her job back last week by pursuing a union grievance against pregnancy discrimination.

Next, we passed Columbia five updated counter-proposals on: Appointments and Reappointments, Training, Travel, Union-Management Committee, and Workspace and Materials. While their team continued to argue against longer appointment lengths, they acknowledged that there are issues related to reappointment and visa renewal that should be addressed. We also made a lot of progress on our Union-Management Committee proposal, which would establish a joint committee to help enforce the contract, and we expect to reach a tentative agreement on this at our next session. This is good news, and demonstrates that we are continuing to move forwards while identifying the areas on which we are still farther apart.

The University also passed us their first proposal on the subject of Discipline and Discharge, which included “just cause” protection against termination.  While we have a number of other issues to work out in that article of the contract, it is an important step forward that Columbia agreed to include “just cause” as it protects researchers against arbitrary, unfair termination by a supervisor.

Overall, in the words of one postdoc who attended the bargaining session, it seemed as if Columbia’s team was not “feeling enough pressure” on the issues we discussed. While logical arguments and data are important aspects of the process, it was clear at this session that winning real recourse and protection against bullying, discrimination, and harassment, and more stable policies for international workers, will take the continued participation and action of postdocs and Associate Research Scientists across the university. Our next bargaining session will take place on June 20th.

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CPW-UAW Bargaining Committee