On the Picket Line

Student workers strike for first contract at Columbia University

By Sara Lobman
January 3, 2022

NEW YORK — Some 3,000 graduate and undergraduate student workers at Columbia University, members of United Auto Workers Local 2110, have been on strike here since Nov. 3, fighting for their first contract.

The workers won a ruling from the National Labor Relations Board in 2016 that students, who work as teaching and research assistants, are employees with the right to unionize. Their demands are for a contract that includes higher wages, improved health care, better protection against discrimination and harassment, and that undergraduate workers be recognized as members of the union.

“The university is in New York, so we have to be able to live here,” striker Victoria Greene told the Militant on the picket line Dec. 17. “Many of us don’t have any other income or resources. And we make less than the annual living wage in the city.” The Ivy League university’s endowment is $14.35 billion.

“Last spring we were on strike but were asked to take down the picket lines for three weeks to allow ‘mediation,’” Bonnie Siegler, a graduate research assistant, said. “But the contract that came out of those negotiations didn’t meet any of our demands. We organized to vote it down. That negotiating committee resigned and we elected a new one, including some people who had been part of the fight for the no vote.”

Daniel Driscoll, Columbia University’s human resources vice president, sent letters to the strikers threatening that if they did not return to work by Dec. 10, they would be replaced for the spring semester.

In response, the union organized expanded picketing Dec. 8 at entrances to the main campuses, urging professors and students not to go to class. They were joined by faculty, students and workers from New York University, Fordham University and the City University of New York, as well as by striking Teamsters at United Metro Energy and other unionists.

Workers are getting strike benefits from the union and also have a hardship fund to help with emergency expenses. To contribute, go to https://opencollective.com/student-workers-of-columbia.