New York City: Columbia Graduate Student Workers Strike, Demand Higher Pay

Photo credit: Source Twitter @GWCUAW

By Nélida Tello

After two years of failed negotiations between the Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers (GWC-UAW) and the University over the union’s first labor contract, graduate students went on strike on Monday. Thousands of graduate students and student workers initiated the strike with a picket line and refused to teach classes.

Students are fighting for a 5% increase for the first year of school and 4% increase for each of the following two years. Demands for an emergency medical fund, extended benefits, and funding for doctoral students are also being negotiated.

Students’ are also unsatisfied with the current healthcare plan and the fact that students with dependents pay hundreds of dollars a year for their children to be covered. The university does not offer student parents subsidized childcare leaving many to decide between health coverage or childcare.

The union has been negotiating a new healthcare plan since 2019 after Columbia cut students’ insurance. The failure to reach an agreement has turned the demand from an updated healthcare option to a $250,000 emergency medical fund. The amount of the fund is also being disputed.

The failure to reach a resolution comes down to how student-workers are classified by the University and the union. The University argues that it does not need to offer healthcare, tuition waivers, or extended funding for doctoral students since the contract is for workers and these other aspects concern students.

In retaliation against the student workers for fighting for livable pay and benefits, Columbia has stated it will reduce striking students’ paychecks and would require financial aid and stipends be paid back. The union and university are currently negotiating and in the meantime the strike is intended to continue.

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