On Tuesday, July 19, 2022 hundreds of SEIU 1199 members, legislators, and the local community formed a picket line of several hundred in front of Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) to demand a fair contract from Columbia for medical staff. Joining the demonstrators included Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, NYC Councilmember Carmen De La Rosa, and NYS Senator Robert Jackson.
“Right now we’re very limited to a poor standard of [healthcare] benefits. The insurance I have now, I’m paying too much out of pocket, going into debt, and because we’re a private institution, they put me into collections. It’s hundreds of dollars in copays, which I can’t cover, and they want to raise that cost. I can’t afford to pay any more of a deductible for family members, I’m a mother of four. It’s just a strain right now with everything that’s going on – it’s hurting my pocket and taking away from my children.” – Melina Martinez, Administrative Aide
Workers who are among the lowest-paid employees at Columbia have been negotiating with the university for months. These include technical, clerical, library workers, dental assistants, field researchers, and other essential support staff. Workers are fighting for affordable health benefits, fair wage increases, and the recognition of Juneteenth as a paid holiday. They want the same medical plan as a cafeteria and clerical workers have had for years at Columbia’s 116th St. campus as well as tens of thousands of other healthcare workers across NYC hospitals. Despite working on the frontlines of the pandemic—including supporting vital research into covid vaccines—workers are being told by Columbia that they now need to pay more to keep their inferior health insurance.
“I was essential the entire pandemic, I didn’t call out once. I was processing samples from people with lung disease all throughout COVID, I was one of three people that stayed in our lab. I got no hazard pay, no benefits, no raise. Columbia has done nothing to support us, and now we’re being asked to pay for our own healthcare. It’s crazy” – Mason Amelotte Sr. Technician
As a prestigious university in the heart of Harlem with a $14 billion endowment, the university is refusing to recognize Juneteenth as a holiday for all staff and is not negotiating a contract in good faith. Columbia already recognizes Juneteenth as a day off for faculty and students but is not extending the same recognition to its low-wage, frontline workforce. The picketing members of the staff are asking for a fair contract and the respect and dignity they deserve. These dedicated employees worked throughout the COVID-19 pandemic at great risk to their health and continue to provide critical services to the community every day.
“I believe that workers’ rights are human rights. I think it’s really important to be paid fairly, especially with a huge corporation like Columbia, collecting millions of dollars into their own CEO’s pocket, and it’s not fair for the workers who come here every day, pandemic or not, they show up every day. It’s important to support them.” – Katherine Filpo, Research Assistant.