Over 200 student workers pledge to withhold labor until University grants full amnesty, permanently removes NYPD from campus (Columbia Spectator)

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Over 200 student workers pledge to withhold labor until University grants full amnesty, permanently removes NYPD from campus

The sick-out—“an organized absence from work by workers on the pretext of sickness,” according to Merriam Webster—comes in tandem with a faculty strike.

By Gabriella Gregor Splaver / Senior Staff PhotographerStudent workers who sign onto the sick-out pledge to withhold final grades, which are due on Monday for graduating seniors and on Thursday for all other students.BY SARAH HUDDLESTON • MAY 13, 2024 AT 10:23 PMShare

Over 200 independent student workers pledged to withhold their labor—which includes withholding final grades—until the University grants amnesty to all students, faculty, and staff disciplined for their involvement in pro-Palestinian protest activity and permanently removes New York Police Department personnel from campus.

The student workers sent letters to their deans on Sunday informing them of their pledge. The group also announced the action in a May 6 press release, which condemns the April 30 sweep of occupied Hamilton Hall, subsequent restrictions on campus access, and University President Minouche Shafik’s request to have NYPD remain on campus until May 17.

“These workplace conditions are unsafe and unacceptable. The actions of the Columbia administration are sickening,” the press release reads. “Because of this, as independent and unaffiliated student workers, we call for a sickout until our demands of full amnesty for disciplined students and cops off campus are met. There will be no grading and no research until the militarized lockdown of campus is lifted and all suspended and expelled students are granted amnesty.”

A sick-out is “an organized absence from work by workers on the pretext of sickness,” according to Merriam Webster. In a Monday Instagram post, the organizers wrote that graduate student workers and faculty participants will either call out sick or withhold work and tell their supervisors they are sick “once prompted to do so.” The Instagram post also encourages faculty to join the sick-out, not replace the lost labor, not report those participating, and participate in similar organizing efforts.

The sick-out action is not affiliated with any union, but builds off a foundation of rank-and-file organizing at Columbia, according to a PhD student worker who spoke to Spectator under the condition of anonymity. The student said that student workers have been meeting for a while to discuss their “outrage at the actions by the administration of Columbia,” but were motivated by a call from Columbia University Apartheid Divest directed to faculty and staff that “encouraged them to take labor actions to call the function of the University.”

The student said that the group decided to focus their demands on amnesty and NYPD removal after witnessing the mass arrests on April 18 and April 30, which were both authorized by Shafik. As NYPD officers swept Hamilton, they threw one protester down the stairs, slammed protesters with metal barricades, deployed stun grenades, and accidentally fired a gun. The NYPD arrested over 200 individuals across both sweeps.

“We stay resolute on our call for the liberation of Palestine. But upon discussing in these last meetings, we saw that the level of repression, sometimes brutally so by the police, on our students was untenable,” the student said. “And the presence of NYPD on campus posed an unsafe labor and work conditions for us, the student workers, as well.”

The group’s letter to the deans also states that the presence of NYPD creates “untenable living and working conditions on and around the Morningside campus,” expressing that “numerous students have already reported being catcalled and sexually harassed by NYPD officers on campus.”

“We thank the NYPD for their support of our community and neighborhood throughout this challenging time,” a University spokesperson wrote in a statement to Spectator. “Both the NYPD and the University would take seriously any complaints of inappropriate behavior and would investigate them.”

Separately, hundreds of faculty and staff began a strike, pledging to withhold all acts of labor that “directly serve the administration” while still completing “student-serving” work, such as submitting grades or writing recommendation letters. The faculty and staff strike is similarly motivated by the NYPD’s continued presence on campus and the University’s pursuit of disciplinary action against students it says were involved in the “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” and the Hamilton occupation.

Students accused of occupying Hamilton are facing expulsion, while students accused of participating in the encampment have been issued suspensions. Columbia warned encampment participants on April 29 that they would be suspended if they did not clear out and self-identify by 2 p.m., according to University notices obtained by Spectator. The notices outline an “alternative resolution,” which places students under disciplinary probation until June 30, 2025. It also requires students to commit to comply with University policies and any future or pending disciplinary processes.

Suspended students who did not sign the “alternative resolution” have not been given a hearing date. The University Senate passed a resolution on Wednesday calling for a halt in disciplinary proceedings over concerns on proper adjudication.

The PhD student said that “seeing students and former students being dragged out by the police was just heartbreaking.”

“We cannot work with these conditions,” the student said. “And we’re extremely proud of everyone that’s organizing on campus and across campuses in the U.S. to bring attention to Gaza and the genocide, and I think that this is our main goal: to support them, but by supporting them, we’re supporting the demand of bringing attention to the genocide.”

The deadline to submit grades for graduating seniors is Monday. The deadline for all other students is Thursday.

University News Editor Sarah Huddleston can be contacted at sarah.huddleston@columbiaspectator.com. Follow Spectator on X @ColumbiaSpec.

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