MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS, NY — A standoff between striking Columbia University graduate student workers and the administration is reaching a boiling point as a deadline to return to work is fast approaching.
The Student Workers of Columbia, which counts its membership at 3,000 people, has been on strike for six weeks as they say the world-renowned Morningside Heights school refuses to address their three main contract issues: a living wage, comprehensive health care and third-party arbitration.
The student-worker union is holding a picket on Wednesday, warning the community to “expect that campus will be shut down as a result.”
The picketing event was prompted by Columbia University’s email last week saying that the graduate student workers would possibly be replaced in the spring semester if they did not return to work by Friday.
Columbia University said in a statement to Patch, though, that it “will make every effort” to also find a position for any graduate student that didn’t return to work by this week’s deadline.
“In the face of enormously trying circumstances created by the strike, our first priority is the academic progress of our students, particularly undergraduates whose classes are being disrupted,” Columbia University told Patch in a statement. “The message sent last week to the union bargaining committee explaining the university’s approach to spring appointments and teaching assignments was necessary to fulfill that commitment.”
“Replacing instructors who leave the classroom is permitted by U.S. labor law,” the university added. “With respect to striking student workers who return to work after December 10, we will make every effort to provide them with suitable positions, as available.”
While the university says it would be legal to replace the graduate students who leave their classroom roles, the student union does not agree.
“Student workers are striking, in part, over two unfair labor practices (ULPs) filed with the National Labor Relations Board, and the retaliation threat last week will lead to a third ULP,” Student Workers of Columbia said in an emailed statement. “We are considered ‘ULP strikers,’ which prohibits employers from permanently replacing our labor. Beyond the ULP justifications for the strike, Columbia student workers are also striking on economic grounds related to four priority contract issues: a living wage, neutral third-party arbitration, comprehensive healthcare.”
A fat-cat inflatable is being deployed by the students outside Columbia’s main Morningside Heights campus entrance.
Here is the list of expected attendees for Wednesday’s picketing, which started at 10 a.m.
State Senator Robert Jackson
NYC Councilmember Shaun Abreu
Democratic Socialists of America-NYC
Professional Staff Caucus-CUNY, Graduate Student Organizing Committee-NYU
Teamsters Local 804
UAW Local 2325 (Association of Legal Aid Attorneys)
Members of the Jacobi Hospital AFSCME local.
Students who enter campus for medical attention, vaccine appointments, or food will not be considered picket-line crossers. Student workers request that everyone including faculty and staff respect the picket line. A request was also sent out to teachers to cancel classes on Wednesday.
Abreu penned a letter to Columbia President Lee Bollinger supporting the striking graduate student workers.