The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York

CPW-UAW Local 4100 + AAUP@CU

Over the past two years, postdoctoral and associate researchers, faculty, and other officers have been at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic, with significant impacts on our personal and professional lives. From the beginning of this global public health crisis, we and our fellow officers have contributed to maintaining research, instruction, and administrative work across schools on all campuses, whether in-person or remotely, and in spite of all sorts of restrictions and risks.

Many of us volunteered during lockdown and into the vaccination campaign, supporting NY Presbyterian Hospital at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York and biobanking thousands of COVID-19 samples to advance our understanding of the disease, among several other postdoc-driven volunteer efforts. Officers of administration went above and beyond to maintain the functioning of the University, alongside unionized support staff. Faculty pivoted to leading online classes and cared for students in need of unusual forms and degrees of support, often while facing extraordinary pressures from child and elder care during lockdowns.

However, in December 2020 we were informed that, in anticipation of an abrupt financial impact, the University would institute a temporary, one year, moderation of our retirement benefits, limiting the University’s total contribution to each Officer’s retirement plan to the level of 5% of eligible compensation for calendar year 2021. For an example of the consequences of this step, an Associate Research Scientist making the minimum under their union contract, $66,100 per year would lose approximately $1,500 in today's retirement plan, representing roughly $15,000 less for their retirement in 30 years. This is a particularly pernicious thing to do to early career members of our community, as it damages their future incomes right as they are starting to build a nest egg. The effect of these changes has been particularly pronounced given the current inflation rate of 7%, the highest since 1982, and the reduction of retirement payments was compounded by hiring and salary freezes that also had an impact on individual workloads and spending power.

While this measure was ended last August, we recently learned that not only did the anticipated losses never materialize, but the University accumulated an operating surplus of $150 million and an endowment growth of 32.3% in FY2021. Other institutions that took similar measures to curtail contributions during the pandemic have since reversed course and returned the benefits. For example, at Johns Hopkins University, after a faculty-driven forensic audit that proved no financial losses, this measure was reversed.

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To: The Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York
From: [Your Name]

Given all of the sacrifices that officers have made to sustain operations in the university during the difficult times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fact that the University’s worst economic predictions did not come to pass, and were replaced instead by unexpected economic growth, we demand that Columbia University retroactively refund lost retirement contributions to all officers of the University. Doing so is an important gesture of solidarity recognizing the essential contributions we have made to maintaining the University's mission through this unprecedented period.


Columbia Postdoctoral Workers, UAW 4100

Columbia University Chapter of the American Association of University Professors