Where Things Stand on the Postdoc/ARS Negotiations

Here are details on areas of agreement, current proposals, and what’s next.

Neo-classical building with lots of steps

Q. What’s the status of the Postdoc/ARS negotiations?

A. Columbia started bargaining with representatives of the Postdoc/ARS union, CPW-UAW, in February 2019. The University has proposed contract provisions covering terms and conditions of employment, including grievance and arbitration procedures, non-discrimination, safety practices, and time off, as well as procedures for discharge or discipline. We now have reached tentative agreement on 10 of those provisions. 

As expected in first contract negotiations, progress can be slow, and we knew the parties were unlikely to reach agreements on most of the provisions—and particularly the difficult, important ones—before Columbia offered a comprehensive proposal that addresses high-priority areas like compensation and parental leave.

This week, the University’s Postdoc/ARS bargaining team presented the union’s Postdoc/ARS team with an updated comprehensive proposed contract. It includes all the provisions where we have tentative agreements, plus new proposals on compensation and parental leave.

Q. What are areas where you’ve already reached agreement?

A. As of February 28, 2020, the two sides have reached tentative agreements on 10 issues, including: a discipline and discharge provision that requires just cause; health and safety provisions; employee access to their employment file; policies that provide for training and travel reimbursement; workload requirements; workspace and equipment guarantees, job posting guidelines, a severability clause that preserves the agreement if a portion is found unlawful; and the formation of a joint union management committee to discuss matters related to the contract.

Q. What is the University bargaining team’s proposal on compensation?

A. We believe that our Postdocs/ARSs should receive fair compensation, and we want to do better by them. But our resources are not unlimited, and we must strike the right balance between doing right by our Postdocs/ARSs, and preserving our tradition of academic excellence and our ability to remain competitive in the future.

Under current rates, minimum annual compensation for Postdoctoral Research Fellows is $50,004; for Postdoctoral Research Scientists/Scholars it is $51,376; and for Associate Research Scientists/Scholars it is $57,708. 

Under our new proposal (revised April 16, 2020), the minimum annual compensation effective July 1, 2021, would be $56,133 for Postdoctoral Research Fellows, $58,500 for Postdoctoral Scientists/Scholars and $65,000 for ARSs. Salaries or stipends at or above these minimums would increase 2.0% per year that year and the following year.

Q. What are the terms of the University’s parental leave proposal, and why is this issue so important?

A. Parental leave is important because so many of our Postdocs/ARSs have young families and live on tight budgets in a city where childcare is expensive and relatives may live far away. Understandably, the union bargaining team is seeking to maximize the parental leave benefit to ease these pressures.

Current Columbia parental leave policies follow the New York State Paid Family Leave law: either parent is eligible for 10 weeks paid leave at 60% salary, capped at $840.70 per week.  In 2021, the NYSPFL benefit will increase to 12 weeks paid leave at 67% pay.  This leave is in addition to disability leave at full pay (typically 6-8 weeks) for the birthing parent.

Under the new proposal, effective January 1, 2021, full-time Postdocs/ARSs who have worked at Columbia for a minimum of one year and who become a parent of a newborn child or adopt a child under the age of six during the term of their appointment may be granted up to four weeks of paid parental leave at full salary, unless such leave is explicitly restricted by an external source of funding for the appointee’s compensation.

The four weeks of paid parental leave at full salary will run concurrently with the first four weeks of New York State Paid Family Leave, not in addition to it. To qualify for a leave, the appointee must assume significant and sustained responsibility for the care of the child and is expected to be the caregiver at least half time during normal working hours throughout the period of the leave. This leave may be taken any time within a year of the birth or adoption.

Q. Where do negotiations go from here?

A. We are encouraged by the progress of the ARS/Postdoc talks. Going forward, we will begin meeting twice a week as we resolve remaining issues. We remain optimistic that the two teams will reach an agreement that represents a success for both sides.