Timeline of Unionization and TA Restructuring

Friday, April 13th is the last day graduate student workers may vote on authorizing a strike or not. If you are going to be a TA or any graduate worker position next year, please make sure to let your voice be heard.

**Yes, we recognize some of the article links do not work. In an effort to make our site more beautiful, there were some glitches. We will work on correcting these links as soon as possible. 

  • December 17, 2014: Graduate Workers of Columbia-GWC-UAW filed a petition seeking to represent certain employees employed by The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York, herein called the Employer. (Supplemental Decision on Objections and Notice Hearing)

  • August 2016: The administration sent an email about the restructuring of the Teaching Assistantship Program.

  • August 23, 2016: In a decision between Columbia University and the Graduate Workers of Columbia, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that graduate students “who perform services at a university in connection with their studies”, were employees as according to Section 2(3) of the National Labor Relations Act. (Article)

  • August 24, 2016: John H. Coatsworth, the Columbia Provost, sent an email saying (in regard to the unionization vote), “Regardless of the outcome of the election, we will continue to ensure that Columbia remains a place where every student can achieve the highest levels of intellectual accomplishment and personal fulfillment.” (Article)

  • Early October, 2016: Provost Coatsworth and unionizing students meet. The administration voices its opinion that students should not be considered workers. (Article)

  • October 31, 2016: Supplemental Decision and Direction of Election, issued by the Regional Director of Region 2, dictated that  an election by secret ballot should be conducted on December 7 and 8, 2016, among [certain] employees. (Supplemental Decision on Objections and Notice Hearing)

  • December 7, 2016: Graduate student body at Columbia voted on whether or not they wanted to engage in collective bargaining with the University. In total, 72% of the graduate workers who voted wanted a collective bargaining agreement between themselves and the University. (Article)

  • December 9, 2016: An email from Provost Coatsworth announced that workers voted to unionize, view full email in this article.

  • January 9, 2017: In a letter to Columbia University, Provost Coatsworth explains the university’s objections to the unionization vote. The formal contestation can be found here.

  • (After) January 9, 2016: “Shortly after the email was sent, the GWC-UAW started a petition, which was signed by “over 2,000 RAs and TAs...along with over 30,000 members from our community” (overview here), asking to drop these objections. Over the next 9 months, there were other signs of protest and awareness, including graduating undergraduates carrying a sign which said “Graduate Workers of Columbia” while they shook the president’s hand (facebook video here).

  • February 2017: “Financing a SIPA Education”, a student-organized survey, is released. 300 student respondents reported they expect to take out loans exceeding a total of $60,000, but less than half of the respondents expect to make more than $60,000/year. (Need-based Group Documents)

  • March 30, 2017: Graduate Workers of Columbia-United Auto Workers Local 2110 released an unratified draft of the bargaining demands it hopes to present to the University should NLRB rule in its favor. “The union is calling for full tuition and fee waivers plus an annual stipend of at least $30,000 for covered graduate workers. If the union achieves this demand, under the existing assistantship structure, unionization could cost SIPA as much as $9.3 million per year in second-year tuition waivers and stipends, a $4.8 million increase over its current assistantship expenses, according to calculations generated from administration-provided data. SIPA’s 2014-2015 annual report states the school expensed $12 million in total scholarships and stipends for both first and second years.” (Article)

  • April 2017: Building on the February survey, a group of ten students issued an open letter to the SIPA student body. It served to inform SIPA students on the administration’s commitment to launch a pilot program for need-based aid. (Need-based Group)

  • April 16, 2017: An article on the Post claimed the TA funding changes would take effect for the January 2017 Class and was announced in a memo on the website but not through an email. According to the memo, second-year scholarship aid will be “unbundled” from assistantship positions which will be compensated with increased salary payments beginning in Fall 2018. The salary ranges for assistantships will decrease from $1,300-$5,000 to between $3,000 and $12,000.

  • April 16, 2017: In an article in the Morningside Post, Damian Fago, a leader in the Need-based Aid group said, “A majority of SIPA students represent upper middle class backgrounds”...“[SIPA’s new scholarship process] is good because it separates scholarship aid from the assistantship program but it won’t address the socio-economic bias of SIPA’s aid program. Both American and international students from underprivileged backgrounds are underrepresented at SIPA. This won’t change that.”

In the same article, Financial Aid Office representative David Sheridan said, “[need-based aid] raises some issues because we work with students from all over the world who have different types of currencies, different financial resources and standards of livings. American students can just file the FAFSA; that really can’t be used for international students.”

According to Senior Associate Dean James Parenti, “it is critical that we always focus initially on merit because merit is what is key to ensuring that the degree … will retain value in the market place when … [students] leave SIPA.”

  • April 2017: SIPASA and SIPA Administration held a bi-annual town hall for SIPA students. During this town hall students vocalized their frustrations for need-based aid. (Need-based Group)

  • May 2017: Students carry a unionization sign across the graduation stage. (Video)

  • July 2017: 267 student and alumni signatures representing eight different class years were collected in one week in support of an open letter to Dean Janow  advocating for an independent need-based financial aid pilot program.(Need-based Group)

  • September 20, 2017: The Graduate Workers of Columbia held a graduate workers’ rights forum at Broadway Presbyterian Church on 114th and Broadway. The forum was organized in response to Columbia University administration's objection to the results of the December 2016 Unionization Elections. In total, 72% of the graduate workers who voted wanted a collective bargaining agreement between themselves and the University. (Article)

  • Dec. 22, 2017: Dean Patrick Bohan announces the special fellowship program and re-announces the change in TA, Reader, etc. pay. (Orgsync OSA Post)

  • Jan. 26, 2018: Representatives from the Dean’s Office, the Office of Student Affairs, and the Office of Admissions & Financial Aid held an information session to explain student aid and assistantship opportunities for the 2018-19 academic year. This session covered the SIPA assistantship process where students may apply to be TA’s, Readers, or PA’s. The meeting also discussed SIPA’s new Continuing Student Scholarship, which is the special fellowship program mentioned in Dean Bohan’s December communication to students.

  • Jan. 27, 2018: TA applications are open.(Message from Tan Nguyen sent Jan. 27, 2018)

  • Jan. 28, 2018: SIPASA sent to out a survey to gather student thoughts on the recent funding changes.

  • Jan. 30, 2018: The Provost announces via email its decision to not bargain with union members. The email includes a link to the full response from the university, which can be found here.

  • Jan. 31, 2018: Originally due Feb. 2, the date to apply for TA, etc. positions is changed to Feb. 5 as a result of pressure from student groups (announced in an email from SIPASA). This email also includes answers to some of the questions students had during the Jan. 26th Meeting as well as a link to the meeting video, which initially had been promised to be made public after the meeting but was not released until after SIPASA inquiry.

  • February 27, 2017: SIPASA organizes a Town Hall with SIPA Deans in order to answer questions about the funding changes.