Columbia University Workers Protest for Better Wages

By Adrian Currie

“They have refused to even budge on any of the basic things we’re asking for.”

Student workers at Columbia University began protesting for better wages and benefits early November, supported by one of the largest unions in North America, the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). The Nov 3 strike comes after more than two years of failed negotiations with school officials and amidst a wave of employee-worker protests across the nation.

Hundreds of students participated in Wednesday’s demonstration, marching in the center of campus. They loudly chanted, “We’re out here fighting for our contract.”

“We’ve been bargaining with Columbia for two years trying to negotiate a contract, and they have refused to even budge on any of the basic things that we’re asking for,” said Katie, a graduate student handing out #CUONSTRIKE flyers.

The student workers are fighting for change across all Columbia University campuses.  Some of the student worker demands include expanded healthcare with dental and vision as well as competitive wages matching New York City’s competitive cost of living.

Protesters carried picket signs, most of which stated, “UAW On Strike,” while other signs stated demands. The Student Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers (SWC-UAW) was renamed this past summer, as it had been called the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC). The Union has over 3,000 graduate and undergraduate members and is organized through Local 2110.

One protester, whose sign read “A PICKET LINE MEANS DO NOT CROSS,” outlined the protest goals.

“We are hoping that Columbia will be pressurized to meet some of our major demands, which are higher compensation, arbitration for discrimination and harassment, and health benefits. We need dental.”

The November strike was the second largest next to John Deere workers who’ve been on strike since October. John Deere workers are also represented by UAW.  Their grievances include inadequate wage increases, wanting to end pensions for new hires, and being overburdened by the impact of the supply shortage at work.

SWC Union members voted to approve a strike in September but it was cancelled when negotiations started back only to later fail. The strike is expected to go on indefinitely as negotiations have stalled.

The school’s provost, Mary Boyce, released a statement on the school’s website about the negotiations, stating, “Columbia continues to engage in collective bargaining with Student Workers of Columbia (SWC-UAW). To support faculty during the strike, we are providing the guidance set forth here on what faculty members legally can and cannot say to students during this time period.”

The next rally is scheduled for Nov 11 on campus as well, in front of the Low Library between 116 Street and Amsterdam.


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