News | Administration

Students, Faculty House employees continue to negotiate contracts with labor administrators

Updated in print and online, 1/21

An agreement over the contracts of the Faculty House employees has still not yet been reached, despite repeated attempts from the workers to strike a deal with administrators since last March—and the Student-Worker Solidarity group is looking to change that.

Since the beginning of December, SWS has been meeting with Faculty House workers and Labor Relations administrators to discuss what they consider unfair contracts in preparation for the next negotiation meeting, scheduled for Jan. 23.

The points of contention in the negotiations include the withholding of a 22 percent gratuity, little to no wage increases compared to those of other unions on campus, and the lack of unemployment benefits for laid-off workers during summer and winter breaks.

On Jan. 10, members of SWS delivered a petition to Jeff Scott, executive vice president of student and administrative services, demanding fair and transparent contract negotiations for Faculty House workers after SWS members George Joseph, CC ’16, and Jane Brennan, CC ’14, were denied access to December’s negotiations.

Joseph and Brennan met with Vice President of Campus Services Scott Wright on Dec. 6, a day before negotiations were scheduled to begin, to discuss the contracts of Faculty House workers, which they said do not afford workers a livable wage and inappropriately classify workers as part-time, even when some work up to 80 hours per week.

Wright “completely agreed with us and he promised us that he would go to negotiations and fix the situation,” Joseph said. “But I guess he didn’t really intend on acting.”

Joseph said that Sheila Garvey, assistant vice president of labor relations, “immediately began yelling, demanding to know if we were students” after she saw him and Brennan at the meeting, and said that Garvey refused to begin negotiations while the students were present.

Not wanting to deter possible amendments to the contract, Brennan said that she and Joseph decided to leave the meeting.

Wright and Garvey did not respond to requests for comment.

Disappointed with the response from Columbia administrators, SWS members and a group of Faculty House workers went to Scott’s office on Dec. 20 to present their grievances but were unable to speak to him.

“His secretary was there and said, ‘I think I know why you guys are here.’ Then this big guy, grayish hair, put his head down and power-walked through the room with his briefcase in hand, almost running through the halls, and everyone’s like, ‘Wait, that’s Jeff Scott,’” Joseph said. “It was a crazy scene, seeing 25 workers running after him.”

“There really was no back-and-forth,” Brennan said of the SWS’s interaction with Scott. “It’s why we sent him the petition: to respond and take a stance on what we had talked to him about.”

‘Looking for something better’

According to Faculty House workers, their salaries have not increased by more than $1 in eight years.

The only contract listed for Local 100, the union that represents the Faculty House workers, states that from 2001 to 2004, salaries increased by 2 percent each year. Columbia’s current offer consists of a $200 lump sum for the first year, a 1 percent increase the second and 0 percent the third year.

In contrast, the contract for Local 2110, which represents technical, office and professional workers, received a 17 percent salary increase over five years, starting in 2007. Local 241, serving maintenance and custodial employees, received a 16.5 percent increase over five years, starting in 2008. Local 1199, serving cafeteria and clerical positions, saw a rise of 9 percent over three years from 2006-2009.

Osmond Cousins, a Faculty House chef who has worked there for over 18 years, said that he has sent letters to various administrators, including one to University President Lee Bollinger, but never received any responses.

“We’re concerned about money in our pockets—we’re looking for something better,” he said.

According to Cousins, the Faculty House workers are among the lowest paid. Workers are paid each week in accordance with seniority, with new hires receiving a starting salary of $13.50 per hour.

Workers also said that they were upset that the University instituted a service charge without telling them.

Before the 1996 contract, Faculty House workers received a 15 percent gratuity. But a provision added to that contract got rid of the 15 percent tip and instead included a 22 percent service charge.

Workers and the SWS claim this was a deliberately misleading way to withhold tips from the workers, since clients are told gratuity is included in their bill but would only know it is not destined for the workers after reading their contract.

In addition, workers are laid off summer and winter months during University breaks, which amounts to almost five months of unemployment each year.

Juan Aquino, a single father and caterer for Faculty House who has worked there for 25 years, said that he had to work overtime hours to make ends meet.

“For me to earn the same amount of money the person across campus makes in 40 hours, I have to work up to 80, 90 hours a week,” Aquino said. “Some can say, ‘I’m done here, I’m gonna get another job.’ Not me.”

‘We’re not going to settle’

During layoff season, workers are not paid unemployment benefits because of a 1983 amendment to the state Unemployment Insurance Law.

Instead, full-time workers are given a $200 weekly stipend for the summer, which is “reduced by one-fifth for each day worked” during layoff season, as per the contract.

The type of employment offered at the time of a worker’s initial hiring assigns full and part-time classification, but it is independent from the years a worker has stayed in Faculty House or his or her weekly hours.

“If I worked today, I would get $40 taken off and be paid by the hour,” Aquino said. “It’s not supposed to be that way—they should add that money on top of the layoff money.”

Previously, workers received a stipend of only $150, which, according to Cousins, stems from a 1983-old clause in which minimum wage was $3.35.

Faculty House workers received an increase due to a stipulation in their contract that requires their stipend to rise with Dining Services’.

But Cousins and Aquino said that part-time workers are paid half of the stipend, regardless of what the contract says.

The petition that the SWS issued on Jan. 10 demanded that workers and students be permitted to attend future negotiations and called for Scott to attend the meetings. It accrued more than 100 signatures in fewer than 48 hours.

Leonard Cox, assistant vice president of communications for student and administrative services, said that the University does not comment on ongoing labor negotiations.

In response, SWS issued a statement that said, “Columbia University’s outright refusal for transparent negotiations is unacceptable and leaves no doubt that the University has something to hide.”

As part of a weeklong protest, SWS members will hold a rally outside Faculty House during negotiations Wednesday and a “teach-in” led by Faculty House workers on Thursday to discuss their working conditions and provide a space for students to ask questions.

Faculty House workers said that they were grateful to the students who have spoken out on their behalf and that they are hopeful that they can still reach an agreement before their contract expires in March.

“It’s overwhelmingly emotional, how students having no business getting involved in this are so passionate,” Cousins said. “We’re not going to settle under any circumstances for what’s on the table—something has to happen.”

cecilia.reyes@columbiaspectator.com | @kcecireyes

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Anonymous posted on

As a freshman at Barnard, I was so impressed with SWS's Barnard Workers campaign and can't wait to see what they'll do this semester!

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Anonymous posted on

Great reporting!!! Thank you for sharing this story! Keep us updated!

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anon posted on

Students should not get involved in these disputes. They have no where near the information or facts they need from both sides to render a decision.

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talkheads posted on

Actually, the Faculty House contracts are online, so a lot of the information on the key points of contention are available to everyone. Furthermore, SWS members have gone multiple times to speak to the administration to get their side of the story. So perhaps you shouldn't comment when you have none of the information or facts needed from both sides to render a decision.

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Anonymous posted on

Faculty House's most recent contract is not even online. The last one posted is from 2006.

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anon posted on

Exactly. The SWS has no idea what they are talking about, and its embarrassing.

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talkheads posted on

Most of the most egregious elements in the current contract are intact in the '06 contract. Have you not read it?
That being said, from talking with SWS friends it is my understanding that SWS has (and has reviewed) the current contract (though the new one is not online, curiously I might add). So again, "anon" I'm not sure why you are being so stubborn. Next time, don't make statements like "no idea what they are talking about" when you haven't done any research.

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Anonymous posted on

I just meant that it's all the more horrible on the part of the university to not disclose the information...

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Anonymous posted on

Excuse me, but why is the university obligated to disclose private labor arrangements? Columbia is a private institution. It is not obligated to conduct any of its affairs in the public eye. You, as a student, and not a fiduciary, are not entitled to demand it.

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talkheads posted on

Excuse me, I pay $60,000 dollars to Columbia, and as a paying member I deserve to know if my money is being handled improperly...

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Anonymous posted on

No, you don't pay $60,000 a year to Columbia. Your parents do. And if you don't like the way "your" money is being handled, you have a right to withdraw and attend another educational institution.

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talkheads posted on

Actually youre wrong, I worked construction over the summers just to put myself through college. So don't speak for me, you dumb hick... And what youre saying is patently ridiculous. Do you tell tax payers, if you disagree leave America? I guess that would make sense for a pig headed fascist like yourself...

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Anonymous posted on

I tell taxpayers, if you disagree with America, either 1) leave, or 2) vote your representatives out of office. If you disagree with Columbia, either 1) leave, or 2) get on the Board of Trustees and vote to fire the administration.

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talkheads posted on

I pity both of you for your narrow minded views of citizenship. Our first amendment protects our right to demand justice from all our social institutions whether it be a Woolworths or the Defense Department. As MLK day draws near, reminding us of the power of protests and social activism, I guess I can leave you trolls to wallow in your selfish ignorance...

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Anonymous posted on

You can participate in society through activism. You can participate in Columbia policy by working for Columbia and working your way up to Jeff Scott's job. You want me to put you in touch with Columbia's recruiting officer?

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Anonymous posted on

Or you can participate in Columbia policy by using our power as students to help change it. Do you not believe that protest is legitimate? Or that it's only legitimate against the government? Your view is difficult to understand.

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Anonymous posted on

Nope. I just believe that students have no power. Or the amount of power that they have so little that its inefficient to exercise it to the extent necessary to drive real change, when that change will most likely have damaging side-effects (ie. 1968). If your objective is to change the institution, protest is an inefficient, wasteful means of doing so with damaging side effects.

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talkheads posted on

"I believe that students have no power"...I truly feel sorry for you

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Anonymous posted on

I feel sorrier for you. Have fun wasting your time and making yourself unemployable for anyone with access to Google (thus perpetuating the cycle of whining). The rest of us have more important things to do, like getting jobs, creating value, and enriching society.

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talkheads posted on

If I was unemployable to a group on account of fighting for basic human rights, I would not in good conscious work for them... Fortunately, I have a job, one in which I am rewarded for fulfilling my creative capacities and helping others. Good luck on getting one, kid. I would tell you not to sell yourself short, but it looks like you did that a long time ago...

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Anonymous posted on

allright brb let me just go waste my life trying to become a Columbia HR admin...and ignore every other possible means of social change.

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Anonymous posted on

That's so silly. By that logic, we can only protest unjust systems within the mechanisms of that system. If you don't like King George III, then move to England, make enough money to buy a lordship, and solemnly protest against his reign in the House of Lords, don't start a pinko Marxist American Revolution. If you don't like the Jim Crow South, then move to the North (without the means to do so), or disguise yourself as a white man somehow and vote your representative out of office? There are so many more ways to mess with Columbia, and I don't understand how a conservative like you can support University of Havana North when it suits your purposes. How about all the conservatives protesting when Ahmedinejad spoke? Is that illegitimate? I pity you, fool.

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Anonymous posted on

Why did King George III finally recognize American independence? Because Parliament (the House of Commons AND the House of Lords) refused to grant him any more money to prosecute the war. George III would have continued the war indefinitely. Whig MPs from the very beginning attacked even the concept of going to war in the 13 colonies, and one launched a vigorous debate about how the King's power had to be checked.

Now, it took Washington 8 years to do that. How long are you going to be here for?

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Anonymous posted on

ACTUALLY I WAS THERE! You have your facts wrong, it was the TORY MPs who launched the concept. Also, the outcome of the war definitely had nothing to do with the colonial forces forcing the British to surrender at Yorktown.
PS your last point is brilliant! This campaign will be more difficult than the revolutionary war...

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Anonymous posted on

Actually, yes, if I disagree with what the Obama administration is doing, I have the right to withdraw my money from American banks and hold it in the Cayman Islands -- where it cannot be confiscated by the government, but also cannot support business investment.

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talkheads posted on

Hahahahahhahahaaha the ignorance your privilege engenders is bordering on insane. If only everyone could afford to pack up and move to their beach house in the Caymans when they disagreed with the administration. Unfortunately, I live in reality... talk to me when you decide to join.
PS business investment, wtf are you talking about? Step out of your goldman sachs office and you might be surprised by what you find... people suffering

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Anonymous posted on

Actually, it's very each to set up a bank account in the Caymans. 1) Go to their website, 2) Print out the forms, 3) Sign and mail them, 4) After approval, go to your bank, withdraw your money as a cashiers check, and 5) Mail said check to new Caymans account.

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Anonymous posted on

You really are a naive lunatic. Do you know what has been the greatest anti-poverty tool in history? Jobs. Employment. GDP growth. Yes, business investment. Redistribution will only take you to the point where there's nothing left to redistribute.

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Anonymous posted on

"There are two novels that can transform a bookish 14-year-old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs.”
I had an 8th grade John Galt phase too, you'll grow up someday dont worry. And maybe make a few friends! <3

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Anonymous posted on

While you may have the "right" to withdraw from the institution, that does not mean you do not have the "right" to protest it's practices. Furthermore, if you adhere to any moral code, you must realize that there are responsibilities that go beyond the rights our society affords us. We have obligations that exceed those that the state gives us, and if our power as students and consumers of this institution can be used in pursuit of good, we have a responsibility to use that power.

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Anonymous posted on

Also, SWS has been directly involved in meetings with all of the workers at faculty house as well as their union representatives, in which they brought all these issues to our attention. You, sir, are the uninformed one.

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Anonymous posted on

THANK YOU talkheads. anon, that's bullshit. students don't have all the facts partly because the administration won't provide them--to students and other community members, this should appear as a simple issue of fairness: why should a handful of administrators be allowed to sit on pots of gold while the poorest people suffer? we students, who pay $55,000 to go here, should be allowed to live in a community that treats its members with fairness and respect i.e. a living wage!

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Anonymous posted on

Why not, anon? You've ALWAYS been willing to chime in without facts, or even a demonstrated ability to read and comprehend on a basic level.

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Anonymous posted on

The purpose of the students being involved isn't really "intervention", it's advocacy. The workers tried to get articles into Spectator and nothing was published, but they have no power compared to the power of the students at a university. Our power stems from exactly what hippiehater said. We are consumers, with the ability to withhold our money and support from this institution if it participates in morally objectionable practices.

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Anonymous posted on

So withhold your money. Transfer to some other university. As long as you are here, you are not withholding your money.

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Anonymous posted on

Let's get something straight here. This is a dispute between workers and management. Not students. Know who students are? Customers. Know what say customers have in management? Zero. Zilch. If they don't like it, they can take their business elsewhere. My read of this situation is a bunch of bored hipster Marxists decided to be "socially conscious" and stick their informed, uneducated noses where they can make no impact, but can make a lot of self-indulgent fapping noises. As a student, you don't have a "right" to intervene in (or even "sit in on") labor disputes. You do have a right to be granted admission to classes, take exams, and if your performance warrants, earn credit toward the award of an academic credential. That's it. If there's anything you don't like, you also have the right to take your business else. Grow the f*ck up. And this is higher education -- no mid-level administrator here sits on "pots of gold". I mean, they might be pots of gold compared to what you hipster English postmodern social deconstructionists living in Brooklyn on pot and ramen consider normal, but not the hardworking silent majority who have much, much better things to do with their time than protest random shit. Go and gush all over Das Kapital in the Hungarian if you have nothing better to do with your spare time -- that way you'll at least be out of our way, and potentially be a real-life warning exhibit to small children of what not to grow up to be.

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talkheads posted on

Lolololol do you think the Faculty House employees working 80 hours a week just to feed their families are part of your "hardworking silent majority"? This isn't protesting about random shit, its a struggle to help working people make ends meet at a university that has plenty to share...
The fact that you consider students merely customers, rather than people engaged in scholarship, reveals the flaws of your narrow minded MBA dogma. Don't impose your hateful bullshit on the rest of us, tough guy hahhaha...
http://health.columbia.edu/ser...
Hey I found some counseling services for you! Thought it might be helpful :))

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Anonymous posted on

Ok, great. The Hitler Youth have chimed in!

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Anonymous posted on

Law in effect. You lose.

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Anonymous posted on

WOW! had no idea any of this was happening. Thanks SWS for not only bringing this issue to the attention of the community, but also supporting and joining the workers in their fight for justice! keep up the good work!

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Anonymous posted on

You guys are shooting the messenger. Jeff Scott has no power on his own; as Executive Vice President of Student and Administrative Services, he reports to and acts as the "front man" for Robert Kasdin, the Senior Executive Vice President. He doesn't call the shots or make the decisions for labor arrangements. Robert Kasdin does. Go see him instead (311 Low Library).

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Anonymous posted on

Thank you bjw2119 . SWS has already spoken with Mr. Kasdin, we have just had more interaction with Jeff Scott.

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Anonymous posted on

Kasdin probably blew you off and told you he has no power, and that it's Jeff Scott's responsibility. The reason you've probably had more interaction with Jeff Scott is because Kasdin ordered Jeff Scott to be the front man. Jeff Scott's job is to handle these confrontations, while Kasdin is the one who makes the decisions. You won't get anywhere with Jeff Scott. You've got to increase the pressure on Kasdin.

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Anonymous posted on

Ummm.... whoever is using my UNI as a name to comment on this article, please stop. I try to use it to comment in a transparent and non-anonymous way. That's sort of undermined when you use it in bad faith. If you want to post about Robert Kasdin and other admins, do it under your own UNI or an anonymous name.

Thanks,

Barry Weinberg

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