On March 17, Deans Nestler and Filizola sent an email claiming to “set the record straight” about our negotiations. In this email, they characterize us as making “unfair and baseless accusations” and in return, they offer “the truth”. As scientists, we are skeptical whenever someone claims to hold “the truth” and prefer to evaluate the data for ourselves.
As the bargaining committee representing all postdocs at Mount Sinai, we are committed to working tirelessly towards a fair contract that ensures the rights, appreciation, and economic improvements we deserve. We urge the Sinai administration to acknowledge the urgency of these improvements by making much greater progress towards a fair agreement, and to stop resisting basic protections that are essential for an inclusive and equitable workplace. We trust that our postdoc colleagues will continue to follow the negotiations closely and attend upcoming virtual bargaining sessions to see the process first hand.
Please find below a response to the claims made in Sinai’s most recent email based on facts gathered during the course of negotiations so far.
“The Truth” according to Sinai:
Since our first session on October 4, 2022, we have had 15 collective bargaining sessions with the union. Over the span of 23 weeks, that amounts to, on average, more than one session every other week. We are constantly working with our committee to find times to meet with the union. In fact, Mount Sinai suggested meeting in smaller focus groups to discuss individual proposals so that we can continue to make strides in our negotiations.
It is true that since October 4, 2022, we have had 15 sessions. What Sinai leaves out is that these sessions amount to only 28 hours over these past 6 months. This is the equivalent of 4.7 hours per month, less than a single work day. In fact, Sinai’s academic leadership only attended a fraction of these sessions, frequently amounting to only 1-3 hours/month.
This trend does not appear to be improving as bargaining progresses. For example, we shared our availability for bargaining sessions in April, which included 172 hours in total. In response to this range of possible times, Sinai made a counter offer of only 4 hours over the course of 2 sessions.
Our union first proposed meeting in small focus groups on October 11, 2022 in response to Sinai’s claims that their team is “super super busy” by their lead negotiator hired from the law firm Proskauer Rose LLP. We offered to meet as frequently as needed on different issues in parallel, in flexible smaller groups to continue making progress.
Our bargaining committee has repeatedly proposed meeting weekly, signaled flexibility about scheduling and provided Sinai with our availability in advance. The Sinai team has rejected our proposals of weekly meetings and repeatedly shows up at sessions unprepared to schedule further sessions. As an example, we asked Sinai at our meeting on March 8 for more sessions and reminded them again on March 17. It took Sinai until March 28, almost 3 weeks, to provide us with their availability.
Mount Sinai has made significant movement on many of its counterproposals to the union. For instance, we recently made a substantial move in our latest counterproposal for Appointments and Reappointments to allow for appointment terms of one, two, or three years. Conversely, the union continues to reject our compromises and issue proposals reiterating their original language. For instance, the union provided us a counterproposal for Discipline and Dismissal on December 19 that rejected all of our language and contained no substantive changes from their previous proposal on October 4.
On Sinai’s movements in counter proposals
Sinai has frequently made counter-proposals that go well below the status quo, only then moving forward – often while still staying below the status quo. We do not consider this to be “significant movement”. This practice delays progress towards a fair contract significantly. As an example, the status quo on appointment length is that over 70% of postdocs at Sinai receive an appointment of 2 years or longer and some postdocs receive up to 5 years when funding allows.
Sinai’s first counter on Appointments and Reappointments would have limited initial appointment lengths down to a strict 1-year. Sinai then made a “significant movement” in order “to allow for appointment terms of one, two, or three years” which is still worse than the status quo.
On Discipline and Dismissal, Sinai has made 2 counter proposals, both of which would allow them to terminate postdocs’ appointments without just cause. All other postdoc union contracts include just cause protections that protect against unjust discipline and termination.
Mount Sinai still has not received any proposals from the union concerning postdoc salaries or other economic terms, which has delayed our progress. Reaching an agreement on economic terms will likely take significant effort on both sides and the union has yet to present any initial proposals or thoughts.
On housing extensions
Sinai acknowledged the historic economic hardship of postdocs on December 6, 2022 by proposing a 3% raise to alleviate postdocs’ financial stress, which we agreed to without waiving our right to propose more ambitious increases in the future.
So, on December 19, 2022, we made Sinai aware of the current unprecedented housing crisis that postdocs were facing at the end of their 3-year housing term. As an immediate measure, we proposed a housing extension for the time of the bargaining process and moved towards Sinai on February 1 by limiting the housing extension to the end of 2023 . It took Sinai nearly 3 months (until March 17) to officially respond to our proposal, not showing any urgency to help postdocs who lost housing during those months. If there is a shortage of vacant apartments, why is Sinai unwilling to share this information with the postdocs?
A January report on skyrocketing NYC rents shows that the median rental price in Manhattan is $4095/month ($49140/year). This is equivalent to 81.3% of the current minimum postdoc gross salary (after the 3% increase last January). For reference, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development has defined rent-burdened families as those who spend more than 30% of their household income on housing.
We have made diligent efforts to thoughtfully respond to the Union’s proposals as quickly as possible and have successfully responded to all of the Union’s initial language proposals. As a reminder, the union has still not given us any economic proposals.
On the urgency of reaching a fair contract
Mount Sinai has on two occasions come to the negotiating table with no counters (November 15, 2022 and January 11, 2023). In the two sessions following these, we ran out of time to present the counter proposals we had prepared.
On February 21, Sinai responded to our Health and Safety counter proposal from December 19, 2022 including regressive language in three places. This means going backwards on language already agreed in previous counter proposals, delaying progress significantly and not advancing this article towards an agreement.
We need more time at the bargaining table. We have 12 of our initial language proposals still under discussion, dealing with non-economic issues like Appointments, Workload and Discipline and Dismissal.
If you have any questions about our ongoing negotiations, or thoughts on how to encourage greater urgency from the Sinai administration, please do not hesitate to reach out.
SPOC-UAW Bargaining Committee