Cornell Graduate Students United came out with 20 other labor unions of graduate workers at private universities from all over the country — including Harvard, University of Michigan and Wayne State University — in order to call for the reform of higher education.
The organization hosted activities on Thursday — also known as the “We Are Workers Day of Action” — to raise public awareness that many graduate students are not recognized as workers.
“This is a national day of action that will be taking place around the country to remind university administrations that graduate students are workers and deserve to have their voice heard and rights respected in the workplace,” said Andrew Crook, a member of CGSU.
In 2004, Brown University argued in front of the National Labor Relations Board that teaching and research are essential parts of academic development and graduate training. The outcome of this ruling denied the rights of the employee-employer relationship to graduates working for private universities. As a result of this decision, graduate students are denied the right to bargain collectively.
“CGSU was formed in spring 2014 in the wake a series of labor disputes that emerged between graduate T.A.s and R.A.s around disparate pay, worker’s compensation, childcare benefits and lack of transparency in university labor policies,” said James Ingoldsby grad, communication and outreach chair of CGSU.
The movement is petitioning the National Labor Relations Board to overturn the 2004 ruling of Brown, to recognize graduate students and T.A.s as workers and to restore the right to collectively bargain fair contracts with their employers.
The CGSU held a two-hour tabling session and demonstration on Ho Plaza, where members promoted the larger graduate student unionization movement. Members of CGSU spoke with Cornellians about what they said they believed were unjust labor practices and signed up new members.
Later there was a two-hour “grade-in,” where dozens of graduate T.A.s sat and graded papers in Olin Library, according to Ingoldsby. They wore matching shirts to highlight the distinction that they were there not studying toward their degrees, but rather working for the University.
Ingoldsby said the events were a big step toward getting the CGSU’s message of worker solidarity across institutions of higher learning heard in print and social media.
The 20 student unions participating in the “We are Workers” events posted a joint statement delineating their goals of redressing social structures in higher education.
“Our movement is also a declaration that teaching and research are the mission of the university,” the statement reads. “Having a voice in determining the terms of our labor will help us make the university a place where teaching and research are the first priority.”