Diversity Coalition Statement in Support of the Graduate Workers of Columbia

In December—a year after the original 72% vote in favor of the Graduate Workers of Columbia (GWC-UAW Local 2110)—the National Labor Relations Board officially certified the union for graduate workers and undergraduate teaching assistants (TAs) at Columbia. The Columbia administration has filed appeal after appeal to stall negotiations with GWC, and has refused its responsibility to bargain, as is now required by law.  In the beginning of April, GWC voted 93% in favor of authorizing a strike in the event that Columbia refuses to bargain. Since the administration has once again refused to bargain, graduate workers and undergraduate teaching assistants will stop performing paid work beginning on Tuesday, April 24 at 10am.

As the Diversity Coalition--a coalition of SIPA student organizations dedicated to promoting greater diversity, equity, and social justice at Columbia and beyond--we stand in solidarity with graduate workers and undergraduate teaching assistants at Columbia. We view the University and its administrators as responsible for any inconveniences caused by the strike and stand by the strikers in demanding fair labor conditions.  Specifically, we recognize that all cancelled classes, recitations, or office hours, and any missing grades or unresponded emails are the fault of the University: a University that has consistently failed to provide stable payment, comprehensive health insurance, adequate parental leave and child care support, and appropriate protection from sexual harassment for all teaching, research, and program assistants. In refusing to bargain, the University has repeatedly failed to respect the democratic process asserted by graduate workers. On the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1968 Columbia student protests, we call upon Columbia University to recognize the graduate student vote and bargain fairly with the Graduate Workers of Columbia.

How does this relate to our experience as SIPA graduate students?  And, why are we, as the Diversity Coalition, compelled to weigh in?  As graduate students in one of the most prestigious institutions in the world, we have immense privileges and social and cultural capital that many workers do not.  We know that everyday, workers around the world risk their livelihoods, and sometimes much more, to stand up for their rights, for their dignity, and for justice. As such, we will not confuse the stakes and say that all graduate students have as much to lose or to gain as other workers.  

And yet, in addition to the real financial and personal hardships that many graduate workers experience, this fight has also never been only about wages and benefits. Today, graduate workers at Columbia can join a growing movement of unions “bargaining for the common good.”  As graduate students rise up across the country as part of the #MeToo movement, our union can be one more mechanism to fight against sexual harassment and assault on campus and to hold the university accountable when they are dragging their feet.  Moreover, the fight to ensure Columbia bargains with our union in good faith should also be seen as interconnected with the fight for equity and racial justice at Columbia. Along with our student organizations, our union should also be a tool in the fight to hold Columbia accountable to increasing the diversity and representation of its student body, faculty, and leadership and to act as a more responsible actor in the New York City community.   

As the Diversity Coalition at SIPA, this is why we are standing with our fellow graduate students in this fight. Not only because it is in our self-interest (which we believe it ultimately is), but because it is the right and just thing to do.  As future leaders, policymakers and advocates, we must model the kind of ethically responsible and morally conscious leadership that we need more of in our society, even if the Columbia University administration, and our supposed role models refuse to do the same.

To all of our hard-working graduate student instructors: we support your right to strike and to stand up for your rights, and we encourage you to do so, not only for yourselves, but for future generations of students and workers.  Your individual actions are not meaningless; they can be part of a larger movement for transformative change. Though not everyone will agree with your stance, please know, we’ve got your backs. We encourage everyone to join us in solidarity at the picket line on College Walk each day this week starting Tuesday, April 24 at 10 AM.

In Solidarity,
The Diversity Coalition

SIPA Students of Color
Columbia University Puerto Rico Initiative
Human Rights Working Group
Migration Working Group
Criminal Justice Reform Working Group
Gender Policy Working Group
Women in Leadership