Columbia University Student Worker Union Reaches Deal With College

The university and student workers reached a deal after two years of negotiations and many counter offers.
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  • Workers ended a 10-week strike after reaching a tentative agreement.
  • The deal includes a minimum wage increase for undergraduate workers.
  • A final vote on the tentative agreement is slated for later this month.

Student workers at Columbia University struck a tentative agreement with their school after two years of negotiations amid a labor crisis.

The approximately 3,000 graduate and undergraduate students that make up Student Workers of Columbia (SWC) still need to vote to formally approve the agreement. According to an announcement from the union, it includes wage increases for workers, dental coverage, access to arbitration or mediation for harassment claims, and increases in child care subsidies.

The voting period to approve the agreement will run from Jan. 22-27. The agreement would have a retroactive start date of Aug. 1, 2021 and last until June 30, 2025, if approved. Negotiations for the next contract would begin by May 1, 2025.

In the meantime, SWC members voted to end its 10-week strike on Friday, with nearly 94% of members agreeing to conclude the strike. This was the union's second strike in the last year.

Due to its uniqueness, perhaps the most notable inclusion in the tentative agreement is the ability for union members to request external arbitration or mediation for harassment and discrimination claims — even those involving sex-based discimination filed with a school's Title IX office. Student workers at Harvard University also gained access to arbitration in their work contract, but not for Title IX issues.

According to the tentative agreement, student workers may seek mediation 75 days after filing a harassment/discrimination complaint, or after an equal opportunity and affirmative action (EOAA) decision is reached. Union members filing a Title IX-related complaint must go through both the traditional EOAA decision process and exhaust the appeals process in order to request arbitration of their case.

Union members will also gain access to higher wages if this deal is approved later this month. SWC revealed that the minimum wage for hourly workers will rise from $15 per hour to $21 per hour as soon as the deal is ratified. That minimum would increase an additional $0.50 through the remaining three years of the deal.

Pay for Columbia University Ph.D. students will retroactively increase no less than 4% this academic year, plus an additional 2% to cover union dues. Their wages will increase by 3% over each of the next three years. The deal also includes pay parity across the various Ph.D. programs.

Master's and undergraduate students are in line for a retroactive pay increase of no less than 5% this year, with 3% increases coming in each of the next three years.

The University of Columbia will also cover 75% of a student worker's dental premiums, according to the tentative deal.

Union members with children would see a childcare subsidy increase of $4,500 for the current academic year. $500 increases would occur the next two school years.

"Achieving these significant improvements to our working conditions at Columbia has not been an easy process," the SWC bargaining committee said in a statement. "It has taken years of collective effort and struggle to reach this point, and we are humbled by the contributions of the thousands of our members who stepped up to the plate and made their voices heard, all while taking material risks in service of a better future for present and future workers at Columbia and beyond."

Mary Boyce, provost and a professor of mechanical engineering at Columbia University, said in a letter addressed to students that she doesn't anticipate the three-week ratification process of the agreement will hinder the start of the next school semester on Jan. 18.

"There is no doubt that this has been a challenging period for the university, yet all who were involved in collective bargaining shared the common goal of creating a stronger Columbia for those who teach and learn, conduct research, discover and innovate, work, and study here," Boyce said in a statement. "We are proud of this agreement, which would make Columbia a leader in higher education on a long list of issues affecting student employees, and we look forward to sharing more details in the coming days."