Reacting to an email from Interim President Hunter Rawlings discouraging the unionization of graduate students, Michaela Brangan grad — an administrative liaison for Cornell Graduate Students United — criticized what she called Rawlings misrepresentation of the union.
CGSU believes Rawlings decided disparage graduate student unionization because “the administration sees the union as a threat to power,” according to Brangan.
“Right now the administration can decide what to pay grads, what kinds of benefits they have, they can conduct all business as they see fit without any real checks on their power — and it makes sense, they don’t want to give up any of that power,” she said.
Brangan also said Rawlings misrepresented CGSU’s relationship with its national union affiliates — the American Federation of Teachers and N.Y. State United Teachers — by unfairly grouping their union objectives.
“We also felt that it was misleading that he stated the interest of the national union would necessarily be implicated in a contract,” Brangan said. “Only Cornell graduate students — not affiliates — will get to decide on what their contracts will look like, and the interests represented there will those of the graduates.”
Furthermore, Brangan explained that the central role of national affiliates will be to support their local unions.
“Dues from AFT and NYSUT help to fund our campaign. Right now we do not pay any dues,” she said. “So, they’re a national union that serves as support for local unions, but a contract that is negotiated with the University will be what Cornell graduate students want.”
These unions’ local affiliates — a group that CGSU would join if unionization is successful — individually determine their level of involvement with their national organization, according to Brangan.
“We have our own bylaws and constitution and the way that AFT works is through the local,” she said. “It’s not a top-down approach, it’s much more horizontal — that being said, they’re there to help us … we get to decide how much they’re involved.”
CGSU is currently gathering signatures from graduate students to authorize an election, according to Brangan. She said that, under the National Labor Relations Act, the organization needs approval from 30 percent of graduate students in order to vote on unionization.
“CGSU wants real choices and real changes for graduate students — for both T.A.’s and R.A.’s,” Brangan said.