GAGE supports Columbia student workers’ strike for a fair contract
Georgetown Graduate Workers Alliance (GAGE) affirmed its support for Columbia University students after more than 3,000 Columbia undergraduate and graduate students launched a union-wide strike on November 3.
Members of the Student Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers (SWC-UAW), Columbia’s student union of teaching assistants, research assistants and undergraduate students, launched a strike after the union failed to strike a contractual deal with Columbia University in November. November 1 and 2 negotiation sessions.
SWC-UAW specifically asks Columbia to accept a contract that includes a salary increase to meet the living needs of students in New York, a more robust dental and eye insurance plan, better protection for international students, a reduction of wage disparities and a guarantee for arbitration by a neutral third party in cases of discrimination and harassment.
GAGE is supporting SWC-UAW in its search for a new contractual agreement with Columbia University, according to GAGE secretary Jeffrey Tsoi (LAW ’23, GRD ’26).
“We hope the voice of Columbia’s graduate workers and public support will prompt the Columbia administration to recognize the importance of SWC’s demands as soon as possible and to negotiate a fair and equitable contract with SWC,” Tsoi wrote in an email to The Hoya. .
The hard-working students decided to strike after the university failed to respond to their demands, according to Charles Steinman, a history doctoral student at Columbia who is a picket captain and frontline strike organizer.
“In short, a continuing pattern of insults and intransigence on Columbia’s part at the bargaining table, we realized we had no choice but to strike in order to secure a solid contract and fair, ”Steinman wrote in an email to Le Hoya. “I am encouraged by the tangible joy in the face of hardship, as well as the ethic of care and love, which I have experienced on the picket line so far. Columbia wants to starve us, to intimidate us. It won’t work.
This is SWC-UAW’s fourth strike in four years. The most recent strike took place in the spring of 2021, when a draft employment contract was drawn up but rejected by the union for its inability to meet the main demands, including a sufficiently large pay rise. SWC-UAW created a new bargaining committee following this strike to better represent students.
The new negotiating committee refuses to accept an unfair contract, which has resulted in negotiations stopping, according to Steinman.
With the new collective agreement, the union continues negotiations and hopes for a deal, according to Roger Creel, a fourth-year graduate student at Columbia.
“Essentially our goal is to make a contract, but our unit accepts and Columbia is ready to sign,” Creel said in a telephone interview with The Hoya. “We are a large percentage of the way to a contract that I think the unit will adhere to, but there are a few key issues, such as neutral third party arbitration, dental care and pay equity.”
While GAGE never officially launched a strike in response to the halt in contract negotiations, the union launched protests in the spring of 2020 calling on Georgetown administrators to agree to a contract after more than a year of negotiations. GAGE finally ratified its contract in May 2020, guaranteeing a 12% wage increase for workers graduating on nine-month contracts and a 15% increase for workers on 12-month contracts.
As the strike continues, Tsoi said GAGE will remain in solidarity with the Columbia union.
“We hope that the voice of Columbia’s graduate workers and public support will prompt the Columbia administration to recognize the importance of SWC’s demands as soon as possible and to negotiate a fair and equitable contract with SWC,” Tsoi wrote. “We always stand in solidarity with graduate workers across the country who are fighting for fair and equitable contracts.”
Columbia is committed to reaching a deal with the union and hopes to end the strike as soon as possible, according to a Nov. 10 statement from Columbia Provost Mary Boyce.
“I want to express my commitment to our community that the University will take all reasonable steps to end the strike as soon as possible,” Boyce wrote in the statement. “The University’s desire to come to an agreement is manifested in the series of generous proposals that we have presented that would significantly improve the lives of our students. “
When contacted for comment, a spokesperson for Columbia University directed The Hoya to the November 10 statement.
While it is not known when the student worker strike will end, the solidarity of other schools is important in showing universities across the country that working students will stand up for themselves, according to Creel.
“The solidarity of an organization like the Georgetown Alliance of Student Employees is crucial for us in the strike,” Creel wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We need to demonstrate that the students of each university are not isolated, but rather that we are all fighting for the same vision of fair working conditions. “