By Serach Nissim
Thousands of graduate students and student workers at Columbia University went on Strike on Monday after hitting a brick wall in negotiations with school administrators again.
As reported by the NY Post, the student workers, which began a union four years ago are stalled in negotiations with Columbia U over the terms of their first student worker contract. The graduate students are requesting higher wages and better benefits citing the rising costs of living. They are also demanding an effective system to probe allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination. Representatives said the Union members will stop working or conducting research for the university until their demands are satisfied.
“For the things that arguably don’t cost the University money, when they deny us those demands, they deny us dignity, and for the economic asks, they deny us literally the material conditions we need to live a livable life in New York City,” said Steven Lazickas, Graduate Workers of Columbia-UAW bargaining committee member. “They pay us starvation wages, so they’re denying us a healthy life and they’re denying us dignity. And that’s why we’re going on strike.”
City Comptroller and mayoral hopeful Scott Stringer voiced his support for the student on Monday. “Two years at the bargaining table is two years too long,” he wrote in a tweet. “Columbia must do right by these workers and students.” In the meantime, Columbia U has threatened to withhold payments for any member who actively participates in the strike, as per a statement from the Graduate Workers of Columbia. In a show of support many faculty members and other students have vowed not to report strike activities, so as to protect the workers from the repercussions. A GoFundMe page has even been set up to compensate strikers from whom payment is withheld. As of Tuesday at noon, the fundraiser has gathered over $66,000 from 1.1k donors.
The university said that the decision to strike come as the talks were making progress, and maintained that the timing is difficult as the university is suffering financial setbacks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. “The disappointment many of us feel is grounded not only in the significant burden that our campus would be compelled to bear in the event of a strike during one of the most stressful times in the history of students, staff, and faculty at Columbia, but because, after a long period of relative stasis, there has been considerable progress in our negotiations,” wrote Columbia Interim Provost, Ira Katznelson.