The Georgetown Alliance of Graduate Workers (GAGE) affirmed its support for student workers at Columbia University after over 3,000 Columbia undergraduate and graduate student workers launched a unionwide strike Nov. 3.
Members of the Student Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers (SWC-UAW), Columbia’s student union composed of teaching assistants, research assistants and undergraduate student workers, launched the strike after the union failed to reach a contract agreement with Columbia University in Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 bargaining sessions.
SWC-UAW is specifically calling on Columbia to agree to a contract that includes increased pay to meet student living needs in New York City, a more robust dental and vision insurance plan, better protection for international students, reduction of pay disparity and a guarantee for neutral third-party arbitration in discrimination and harassment cases.
GAGE supports SWC-UAW as they seek a new contract agreement with Columbia University, according to GAGE Secretary Jeffrey Tsoi (LAW ’23, GRD ’26).
“We hope that the voice of graduate workers at Columbia and support from the public would prompt Columbia administration to recognize the importance of SWC’s demands as soon as possible and negotiate a fair and just contract with SWC,” Tsoi wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The student workers decided to strike after the university failed to respond to their demands, according to Charles Steinman, a history doctoral student at Columbia who serves as a picket captain and frontline strike organizer.
“To make a long story short, a continued pattern of insult and intransigence by Columbia at the bargaining table, we realized we had no choice but to go on strike in order to get a strong, fair contract,” Steinman wrote in an email to The Hoya. “I am encouraged by the tangible joy in the face of hardship, as well as the ethic of care and love, that I’ve experienced at the picket thus far. Columbia wants to starve us out, to intimidate us. This will not work.”
This is SWC-UAW’s fourth strike in four years. The most recent strike occurred in spring 2021, when a proposed labor contract was drafted but voted down by the union for its failure to meet key demands, including a large enough pay raise. SWC-UAW created a new bargaining committee following this strike to better represent students.
The new bargaining committee refuses to accept an unfair contract, which has led to a standstill in negotiations, according to Steinman.
With the new bargaining agreement, the union is continuing negotiations and hopeful for an agreement, according to Roger Creel, a fourth-year graduate student at Columbia.
“Essentially, our goal is to come to a contract both that our unit accepts and Columbia is willing to sign,” Creel said in a phone interview with The Hoya. “We are a large percentage of the way to a contract that I think the unit will buy into, but what remains are a few key issues, such as neutral third-party arbitration, dental and pay parity.”
While GAGE never formally launched a strike in response to standstills in contract negotiations, the union did launch protests in spring 2020 calling on Georgetown administrators to agree to a contract after over a year of negotiations. GAGE ultimately ratified its contract in May 2020, securing a 12% pay boost to graduate workers on nine-month contracts and a 15% boost to workers on 12-month contracts.
As the strike continues, Tsoi said GAGE will remain in solidarity with Columbia’s union.
“We hope that the voice of graduate workers at Columbia and support from the public would prompt Columbia administration to recognize the importance of SWC’s demands as soon as possible and negotiate a fair and just contract with SWC,” Tsoi wrote. “We always stand in solidarity with graduate workers across the country fighting for fair and just contracts.”
Columbia is committed to reaching an agreement 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 every reasonable step to end the strike as soon as possible,” Boyce wrote in the statement. “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.”
When reached for comment, a university spokesperson for Columbia directed The Hoya to the Nov. 10 statement.
While unclear when the Columbia student workers strike will end, solidarity from other schools is important to show universities across the country that student workers will advocate for themselves, according to Creel.
“Solidarity from an organization like Georgetown’s Alliance of Student Employees is crucial for us in the strike,” Creel wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We need to demonstrate that students at each university are not isolated, but rather that we all fight for the same vision of just working conditions.”
This article was updated on Nov. 15 to correct a misquotation.