Another victory for our side, shows how much power we have. Keep on keepin’ on.
Avoiding strike, clerical workers’ union reaches deal with Columbia
The new contract avoids deductions on health benefits, standardizes wage increases, and pays for child care and education.
By Casey Tolan
Spectator Senior Staff Writer
Published April 6, 2012
Members of United Auto Workers Local 2110 overwhelmingly approved a new contract on Thursday, avoiding a strike after weeks of negotiations with Columbia administrators.
Columbia had previously proposed a new health plan that would have forced new employees to pay more for their health care than longtime employees, according tounion leaders, so they fought for a new contract, which does not contain payroll deductions for health benefits.
Local 2110 is composed of Columbia clerical workers.
“I think it’s an incredible achievement,” Local 2110 President Maida Rosenstein said. “Very significantly, we were able to preserve our health care without making concessions, which was what the University wanted more than anything.”
The new contract also preserves tuition benefits for union members and their children, which Rosenstein said the University had wanted to stop giving to new employees.
“They really expected us to say, ‘As long as they’re preserved for the older people, it’s OK for less benefits for new employees—both for tuition benefits and health care,’” Rosenstein said. “We said, ‘Absolutely no,’ to both of those things. New employees are our concern as a union as well, and we’re not going to go there.”
University officials did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
The new contract stipulates that each member’s wages will see a one-time increase of $1,200 in the contract’s first year, with a combination of increased salaries and one-time bonuses over the next two years.
The University will also pay an annual $1,000 subsidy to offset tax liability for same-sex domestic partners, balancing higher federal taxes. Additionally, Columbia will increase funding for union members’ child care and for the union’s education fund, which helps pay tuition for union members going to school outside of Columbia.
Local 2110 and the University will also jointly award two $5,000 tuition scholarships per year to children of 2110 members who are accepted to an undergraduate program at Columbia. “One of our concerns is that our members are also struggling to send their kids to college,” Rosenstein said.
The contract, which will last for three years, comes after union members threatened to strike—something Rosenstein said administrators wanted to avoid.
“They knew that our next step was to strike, and that would have happened this week,” Rosenstein said. “They wanted, in the end, to avoid an ugly showdown.”
A rally that attracted 600 or 700 union members and supporters also showed administrators that the union was serious, Rosenstein said.
“We really organized very intensely this time on a grassroots level between the three campuses, and it really made a difference in terms of the level of activism,” Rosenstein said.
“People are pleased with the results. It was a great accomplishment for the negotiation team,” Local 2110 Vice President Booker Washington said. “People are proud of what we accomplished.”
In addition to the contract with Columbia, Local 2110 also approved a new contract with Teachers College on Thursday.
The union’s contract with Barnard does not expire until June 30. “Hopefully they’ll look at what happened at Columbia and Teachers College, and we’ll be able to work through an agreement with them without a fight,” Rosenstein said.
Rosenstein added that the new agreement could be a good model for other unions representing Columbia employees.
“I hope the fact we held off on benefit contributions will really help other unions, because that’s what Columbia likes to do,” Rosenstein said. “If they had got health benefit contributions from us, they would surely go to the next union and fight for it.”
Margaret Mattes contributed reporting.
We’ve added a photos and videos page! Check ‘em out @ http://stopcolumbia.wordpress.com/photos-and-videos/ or in the top-right menu under “history, news & context”
One of the occupiers, Elliott Grieco, got a chance to speak up on the Occupy Wall Street program, locally produced by volunteers and occupiers at the Manhattan News Network (mnn.org).
The interview can be viewed here:
To see more of the program, the episode can be watched in its entirety at: http://studiooccupy.org/#!/media/10652
We’ve expanded our website to include various pages above. We hope it helps and provides a rich experience! Please comment on this post if you have suggestions, thoughts, questions, etc!
Thank you all!
Holding Columbia accountable
Why students must challenge the administration’s empty promises for Manhattanville.
Orginially Published April 5, 2012 in the Spectator: http://www.columbiaspectator.com/2012/04/05/holding-columbia-accountable
The past two weeks have witnessed a renewed engagement between students and labor-related struggles on and around campus. Whether supporting the clerical workers’ struggle for a decent contract—which appears to be coming to a close, although negotiations continue at Teachers College and Barnard—or confronting the disjuncture between University rhetoric and reality in Manhattanville, students have been rebuilding connections both with workers on our campus and with members of the community left behind by Columbia’s promises for Harlem. The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America Local 2110’s recent victory after months of frustrating negotiations with the University has reminded us that collaboration between students and workers has tremendous power to change our campus. We need to continue building these alliances in order to challenge the premises of the University’s expansion.
On the Manhattanville front, Columbia remains as stubborn as ever. Despite the death of a second worker on its property and renewed protest on and around campus—including the occupation of Tuck-it-Away Storage on 125th Street and last Monday’s open forum about the expansion—the administration has felt no need to respond. Columbia has made no move to break with Breeze National, the construction company currently at work in Manhattanville. We cannot allow Columbia to excuse its poor labor practices by hiding behind the veil of subcontracted construction companies in Manhattanville, any more than we can allow them to rip off their workers on our present campus.
Juan Ruiz’s death is a dark reminder of what can happen when the University conducts its expansion without any standards of accountability to the community it is invading. It is symptomatic of far broader problems—an unsavory mélange of hollow rhetoric, lack of transparency, and feigned blindness to the deeper implications of the project, compounded by an exaggerated effort to “protect the bottom line.” Every aspect of the expansion program so far has reflected the same hypocrisy. Take the West Harlem Local Development Corporation, responsible for allocating a whopping one percent of the expansion budget to the Manhattanville community under the “Community Benefits Agreement,” which has been plagued from the start by a lack of transparency and community participation. Or take the official projections for “local job creation.” President Bollinger himself admitted in an interview broadcast on PBS in 2007 that only about 30 percent would be filled by West Harlem residents—scarcely more than the 1,500 jobs currently provided by businesses in the area Columbia plans to build on, according to research conducted by Community Board 9. The gain in local jobs, then, will be negligible, while the uprooting of people has already had tangible effects. Meanwhile, Columbia promises to provide jobs at diverse skill levels, with “dependable health, educational, and retirement benefits.” But as the labor dispute between the University and its clerical workers has revealed, Columbia is anything but committed to providing dependable benefits. Even if it has finally been brought to reason, the University’s insistence on “austerity” over the past two months of negotiation has made its real goals clear.
Moreover, this victory does not eliminate the wider threat to the West Harlem community and, consequently, to many of Columbia’s clerical workers, posed by the Manhattanville gentrification program. As the University aggressively buys up land and buildings to fill in the gaps between the Morningside campus and the Medical Center at 168th Street, consolidating its current status as a real estate mogul in upper Manhattan, it is attracting an increasingly white, upper-class demographic to the neighborhood and pushing long-time, lower-income Harlem residents out of their apartments. Workers paid according to Columbia’s ever-decreasing standards could soon be pushed out of the neighborhood if this trend continues. But these kinds of effects—not to mention the resulting loss of diversity in the area—do not fit into the cost-benefit analysis scheme that Columbia presents us with when it rationalizes kicking thousands of Harlem residents out of their homes.
Although it has feigned blindness to years of persistent protest from the community, Columbia cannot continue to ignore the students whose tuitions keep it running on a day-to-day basis, especially if we work closely with our neighbors. We must look past the administration’s hollow rhetoric, setting its promises of “dependable jobs” for the future against the backdrop of its recent attempts to slash workers’ benefits, and continue demanding accountability from Columbia for all the workers who make our education possible. The administration’s handling of recent events has hardly set the precedent for a sustainable future in Manhattanville. It is our responsibility as students to ensure that this changes.
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in comparative literature. He is involved with Stop Columbia University Displacement and the Columbia University General Assembly.
Columbians must take a stand
Columbia students need to pay attention to the issues in their college community.
By Andrea Viejo
Published April 3, 2012
Last week, I attended the open forum on Columbia’s expansion plan in West Harlem hosted by the Coalition to Preserve Community. To my dismay, most of the attendees were either West Harlem residents or active members of CPC. This made me ponder what this said about our student body. Before Monday’s forum, I did not have firm opinions on Columbia’s expansion plan, but attending the event drove me to strong conclusions. I wanted to be informed, to know what all the controversy was about, and to feel as if I wasn’t living in an ignorant bubble during my time here. What perplexes me is that the very active and intelligent student body at our university has yet to have a strong presence on this issue, regardless of what the stance may be.
After attending the forum, I told a few acquaintances that I was considering occupying the West Harlem space in support, and received mixed responses. Some claimed that as a student benefiting from the endless opportunities the University is providing me, I should be deeply grateful to it and respect its decisions. Others argued that the school should be treated like a business: In the process of paying tuition we function as clients, and therefore have the right to demand certain services from them in exchange. Both of these viewpoints are wrong, and I feel that their prevalence within the student body has impeded an active voice in issues such as the West Harlem expansion. A university should have a symbiotic relationship with its students with room for dialogue and debate. As students, we make up a major portion of this institution’s image—hence, what we voice can have a major influence on policy-making.
I invite you all to ask yourselves the following question: What type of university community do you want? I came to Columbia thrilled at the cultural diversity of living in this city. I chose Columbia over other top schools because I did not want to be secluded in thousands of acres of beautiful trees without any interaction beyond my Ivy League bubble. Thus far, one of the most enriching aspects of the New York I’ve encountered is Harlem. I tend to jog uptown early in the morning because I enjoy the dynamism of the area. It does not compare to the artificial class below 116th Street. As an international student from Mexico, learning about all the different social cleavages in El Barrio has been fascinating. This is the type of university community I want.
A large part of our student body identifies itself with the West Harlem stance on this issue, and by expanding and relocating those communities, we don’t really take into account the damage we are doing to our very own community. Amongst the most touching remarks I heard that night were those of Tom Kappner. He is a Columbia University alumnus. He is also a happy resident of Harlem, who moved there shortly after studying at Columbia. He is afraid of being expelled from the neighborhood he calls home, from the place where he has all his friends, networks, and memories, by the very university community he is also part of.
Similarly, I have met current students who grew up in West Harlem. They came to this school with endless illusions and dreams about the opportunities that lay before them and are instead faced with the fact that Columbia wants to take over the area where their families still reside. Then there’s a large sector of the student population who just can’t afford to see Columbia restructure West Harlem because it would be too expensive to live in. These are students who can’t afford to dine in the chic restaurants that line Broadway or shop in the delis around campus. Instead they go uptown to West Harlem to find cheaper groceries, and might have to head even more uptown if this expansion is successful.
The West Harlem expansion is not an issue that should be left in the hands of the administration. It affects a community that is directly involved with our college experience, it affects our student community, and it even affects the resources that are available to us. Ask yourselves what type of university community you want. If you support the West Harlem expansion, I respect that—let us know why, and you might help the communities that feel so threatened understand the reasons behind the actions taken. If you protest it, join CPC’s cause. They need your help, but they feel that the echo of their voices thins into silence among a student body that ignores them. Next time there is a similar forum to educate the student body on the issue, I expect a full house.
Andrea Viejo a Columbia College first-year. She is on the executive board of the Columbia Society of International Undergraduate Students and a writer for Nuestras Voces. From Outside In runs alternate Mondays.
We apologize for not updating this site earlier this week, please pardon our pace and stay tuned for a video of the inspiring Open Forum we held on Monday, the biggest conversation in years on Columbia’s displacement plan.
Please join us today! Folks will be occupying from 6pm onwards, and we’ll have home-cooked dinner and General Assembly at 7:30.
Until then, please enjoy these videos that folks have made in the past!
Senator Bill Perkins on Columbia Expansion – from 1968 to 2009 (and now 2012)
CU Declared Blighted
CU Blighted Part 2
CU Blighted Part 3
CU Blighted Partt 4