Columbia Student Workers on Strike

Picketing over issues of wages, health care and worker protections paused over mediation

| 15 Nov 2021 | 09:39

On October 27, approximately 500 protesters congregated near the sundial on Columbia University’s campus, united in solidarity with the Student Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers, before several paraded into a classroom where Columbia President Lee Bollinger was teaching his undergraduate course, “Freedom of Speech and Press,” chanting and admonishing him.

Shortly thereafter, on Nov. 3, the Student Workers of Columbia took to the picket line and began a strike in an attempt to negotiate a bargain between the union — which primarily consists of graduate students — and the university for fairer wages, health care, and worker protections, among other things. Two days prior, Mary C. Boyce, the university provost, sent a campus-wide email that addressed the impending situation. Boyce noted “recent proposal that have enhanced elements of the Tentative Agreement,” which was a university-proposed agreement that was narrowly defeated this past April. After the defeat, the SWC-UAW formed a new bargaining team. Boyce also said, “As I have stated previously, our graduate students are central to the academic life of this institution. Our doctoral students represent the top emerging talent in their fields.” The most recent strike marks the fourth in four years.

As it stands, the strike has effectively been paused over the question of mediation. The SWC-UAW is reluctant to enter into mediation, expressing that they feel it will force them to concede certain demands. The university has staunchly maintained that it believes mediation to be the best course of action.

In a second email from Boyce, she addressed the topic of mediation, observing that the university had offered it as a viable option to the union more than a week before the strike began and that the union had neglected to endorse it. “We believe mediation can be especially helpful in scenarios such as this one, involving a first contract; however, the Union has so far not engaged in concrete discussions of mediation,” she asserted. “The University’s willingness to reach an agreement is manifested in the series of generous proposals we have brought to the table that would measurably further improve the lives of our students. We will continue to provide frequent updates on negotiations, along with information via FAQs, as we work toward a resolution beneficial to all.”