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Union-Represented Columbia University Maintenance Workers, Security Guards Authorize Strike & It Could Impact Students' Fall Return

Published Friday, July 31, 2020
Union-Represented Columbia University Maintenance Workers, Security Guards Authorize Strike & It Could Impact Students' Fall Return

(NEW YORK CITY) - Aramis Palma cleans and disinfects buildings at Columbia University. It’s a position that’s become much more important because of the Coronavirus.  “It’s ‘wonderful.’  ‘I love my job,’” Palma says. “We are ‘essential, essential’ personnel."  But Palma’s among about a half-dozen Workers who contracted COVID-19 while cleaning Columbia’s Bard Hall, where doctors visiting from other states to help with the pandemic were staying.  “I ‘caught like real bad symptoms in the beginning,’” Palma said. “I caught body aches and a fever.”  He had to be hospitalized, but recovered.

Palma’s Health Insurance paid for everything and he thanks his employer and his Union, Transit Workers Union (TWU) Local 241.

But his Union and the University are now deadlocked in talks over a new contract.

TWU Local 241 says Columbia wants Workers to pay thousands of dollars more in health care premiums and deductibles - $3,000 per year for the average family of four.

“Sounds ‘ridiculous,’” Palma said. "They ‘should try to help us out more.’  ‘So, we should want to go to work and clean up and do everything that no one else wants to because at the end of the day everyone is working scared.’”

TWU Local 241 President Alex Molina said: “It’s a ‘major, major sticking point, especially now that we’ve been working with modified schedules.’”

Local 241 represents more than 600 Cleaners, Electricians, Plumbers, Painters and Security Officers at four Columbia campuses.

Those Workers have voted to give their Union the authority to call a Strike once the old contract expires at midnight tonight (Friday, July 31st).

“A Strike ‘would mean that there would be no-one there to clean the high touch areas, so it would expose the community,’” he said.

Palma believes a Strike could put the University’s plan to welcome students back to campus for a modified Fall schedule on shaky ground

Columbia responded, saying: “We have been and continue to be in active negotiations with Union Representatives and we remain committed to reaching an agreement and avoiding a work stoppage that would be damaging to everyone involved.”

Asked Palma: “We ‘are taking care of everyone else, so if no-one is taking care of us, what’s going to happen?’”

Palma and others say they don’t want to Strike.

The last one the, Union says, was in the 1970’s, roughly 50 years ago - and it was over health care as well.

That Strike, they say, helped secure health insurance for Workers.

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