November 29, 2016


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To the Editor:

Unions in workplaces are a much-needed apparatus to ensure equitable work conditions. The power of collective bargaining is indisputably beneficial to workers in establishing fair contracts. Our vote in the impending referendum on the matter of unionizing graduate workers is of grave importance, and we bear the burden of vastly influencing the course of graduate education in Cornell and beyond. Follow not in the footsteps of Brexit, widely recognized as the glorious failure of democracy through uninformed, misinformed voters who leveraged their responsibility to vote through passion and nonchalance, bereft of rationality. This letter aims to understand the effect of unionization particularly through CGSU, as an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and New York State United Teachers.

Do you share the same work concerns as a nurse or a kindergarten teacher?: Local unions (such as CGSU) derive legal support and socio-political leverage through the standing of their affiliate parent unions. AFT caters to about 1.6 million members who are to an overwhelming majority, teachers from K–12 and healthcare professionals such as paramedics and nurses. AFT has meager experience in concerns of graduate students from large private universities such as Cornell. Interestingly, other top graduate programs including Harvard, NYU, Columbia, UMass and UConn among several others are affiliated with the national union, UAW, which spearheaded the path-breaking NLRB ruling allowing graduate students the right to collective bargaining. UAW has championed the right of graduate students from private universities to unionize through efforts spanning over a decade (since 2000). The choice to align with UAW would seem like common sense, given their proven commitment in support of graduate students, alignment with unions from fellow Ivies, and most importantly, experience garnered through noteworthy movements at NYU. It is worthy to note that Cornell in previous efforts to unionize did align with UAW. Such prudence eludes the current efforts. But surely CGSU saw some value in AFT — this is hard to know, since like most workings of this union, the agreement signed between AFT and CGSU is inaccessible to graduate students unless one has already signed the authorization card in blind faith — cart before the horse.

AFT drowns the voice of its members: Information on AFT available through investigatory sources paints a sordid picture, betraying rationale behind CGSU’s choice. There are at least 129 registered allegations of Unfair Labor Practices against AFT including 57 violations of the Duty of Fair Representation — filed when members find a union is biased in non-representation of concerns of specific members. Further, in the realm of politicking, AFT is accused of having endorsing Secretary Clinton in her race in the primaries against Senator Sanders and previously against President Obama, much to the chagrin of its fellow unions and their members. This is a classic example of how AFT, like any other democratic organization, is beholden to represent the interests of its majority, i.e. K-12 teachers, even if this means rallying against a candidate such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) who clearly had a fiscal agenda most appealing to (us) the collegiate population. In yet another twisted portrayal of facts, CGSU is proud to be aligned with AFT that caters to 25,000 graduate students – that this is less than 2 percent (total 1.6 million) of AFT’s membership is conveniently unmentioned.

NEA and NYSUT are not vetted here since the former has no prominent presence representing graduate students, and the latter is an AFT-associated state body.

AFT is in it to make money: In the event of CGSU being recognized as our representative union, we will be charged $400 to $800 depending on our annual pay, and the hitherto unmentioned dues owed to CGSU – of this $400 to $600 per student will be directly transferred to AFT and NYSUT’s coffers. Cornell’s current graduate student strength is about 2400 (those eligible to be part of the bargaining unit – teaching assistants, graduate assistants, research assistants, and graduate research assistants). That would mean we would contribute roughly 1 million dollars to AFT’s cause yearly, with little say in their spending of this sum. Recent litigations in California reveal the cutthroat manner in which AFT has focused on its political agenda at the cost of the democratic right of members to take contrarian political stance. Hence, congratulations, we get to pay a hefty annual fee of a million dollars that will be used to further political agendas in which we will have no say. However, from AFT’s standpoint, their renting an office on East State Street and paying several non-Cornell members (anecdotally 12 non-Cornell union workers) to spearhead their campaigning efforts on campus, including constantly haranguing students to sign authorization cards is well justified. For a one-time investment of roughly $102,000 per month — office rent of about $2000 per month (craigslist listing of a similar office in the neighborhood), monthly salary of $100,000 towards the aforementioned campaign workers (AFT pays campaign workers between $262,000 and $8,000 annually with an average of $119,000 US Department of Labor records) a victory at Cornell would set them off in a path to regular remunerations from Cornell upwards of a million dollars. In the meantime, if you suffer loss of pay through strikes, you should know AFT has spent a grand total of $0 on strike benefits, while UAW has spent $4,470,313 in a representative year (2013).

Permanent damage: Your vote in the impending election will dictate the lives of graduate students at Cornell forever. The process of decertifying a union (i.e. legally removing ourselves from CGSU or its affiliates AFT/NEA/NYSUT) is prohibitively onerous. The exact same process as is ongoing, collection of 30 percent of signatures on a decertification petition, followed by elections, is the legal requirement — only this time, we won’t have members paid to harangue graduate students in their offices, homes, over the telephone and such to sign the petition. It is therefore not surprising that despite much dissent and dissatisfaction for AFT, only 18 unions have managed to execute a decertification. Further, analysis has revealed that only about 7 percent of the members of all unions in the country have voted in favor of the union that represents them; most employees are bequeathed membership to their union as terms of their employment, with no say in the choice.

Know what you are signing away and what you will be voting for. Be an informed voter — don’t hire a dubious cardiologist for a complicated brain surgery just because they can wield a scalpel! You may go here if you wish sign up for the union, here if you wish to withdraw your signature from authorization cards, and if you do not want to be bothered by union workers hang this poster outside your office.

Nicole Wiles grad
Mark Obstalecki grad
Kyle Mack grad
Siddarth Chandrasekaran grad

  • Grad Worker at Cornell

    This is your missive to grads? Comparing the grad unionization effort at Cornell to Brexit? You must really think your grad peers are ill-informed if you believe they would read that and think you’re onto something…

    You do realize, as well, that your precursors (At What Cost 1.0, circa 2002) basically operated their campaign on the argument that (suddenly-beloved?) UAW was ill-equipped to affiliate with graduate assistants because they were a big, industrial union. Now AFT (which has LOWER per cap dues than UAW) is the “big bad union.” Despite the fact that AFT has been affiliating with grad assistants since the 1970s, and have a history of unionization in higher ed (including, but not limited to, Albert Einstein, who helped to start his local AFT chapter).

    It wouldn’t matter which union CGSU had decided to affiliate with, how, when, or why: At What Cost is an anti-union campaign and no amount of protesting that “they aren’t opposed to unionization, just this union” will fool anyone! Just admit that you don’t want a union, guys.

    • Grad

      I would agree that the authors’ implication that UAW would be better is off. UAW would be bad for the same reason AFT or any union would be bad: the union can’t possibly have the interests of grad students in mind. I think this is still the point At What Cost is making, but really it does apply to all unions.

      UAW for example has opposed H1B visas. Cornell grads are overwhelmingly international and what happens when they have to send $800 of their paycheck each year to an organization lobbying to prevent them from getting a visa to stay in the country?

      Or if AFT spends your money on preventing Bernie from winning?

      Or if the union makes any number of contract deals with the university which may be good for some students in other departments, but is worse for you and your peers?


      • Grad Worker at Cornell

        UAW is not AFT (or CGSU); $800 is not a thing people are paying; big “bad” AFT did not prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic primary or the presidential election. Throwing around random associations, numbers and provocations with zero evidence to try to wind people up doesn’t advance the discussion.

        If you’d been at the info session on Monday, Professor Lieberwitz explained (as organizers and members have) that a union contract can allow for lots of variation among the sectors of the bargaining unit–that isn’t something the law controls. When the union wins and you decide not to participate in the discussions around bargaining, then yeah: the “mind” won’t have you in it, just like the policy decisions at the University level don’t right now.

        The best first contract will be that which has the most people in the bargaining unit participating in its formation, after having won the election with a healthy majority. If you want to say “unions are bad” and ask silly rhetorical questions then, that’s your choice.

        • Grad

          Grad students are busy being grad students. Most of my peers barely know what the GPSA is, and we can’t expect anything to change. Even if the union gives opportunities for involvement from individual students, most students simply will not get involved. That doesn’t mean they don’t care; rather they work with their advisers rather than administrators.

          Grad students interact with their advisers 99% of the time, occasionally departments, and rarely with the Graduate School. The one-on-one negotiating with advisers has a bigger impact than anything. But, a union contract could for example prevent a student from working extra hours one week when trying to meet a deadline, even if the student and his or her adviser agree that they want to.

          • Science Grad

            I wish you would consider your example more carefully. Why would our members vote for a contract that limits our freedom to work on our own schedules? Our scientist members are particularly protective of this freedom. There are more than enough scientists in our unit to vote down such a contract, and more importantly, enough scientists actively involved in the union who will step up to help craft a contract that includes and protects our interests (without impinging on others). If a policy regarding working hours is included in our contract (and there is no guarantee that it will — this will depend on what members want when we negotiate), such a policy would be enforced by each individual grad as they choose, not by the union. Any grad can choose to work however they please. No one from the union is going to go around with a clipboard penalizing grads who work extra hours to meet a deadline, or extra hours every week in an effort to graduate sooner. What that policy could do is protect a grad who feels they are being forced to work more than is reasonable or safe — a grad feeling exploited would have a clear policy to fall back on and a union to support them in solving the issue.

            As you say, students interact mainly with their advisors. When the student and the advisor are on good terms, this can work well. But academia is all about people, and people don’t always get along perfectly. A contract protects the already good relationships, takes the uncertainty out of expectations on both sides, relieves busy faculty of vaguely defined bureaucratic duties, and protects grads in the (hopefully rare) event that their relationships with their advisors go sour.

          • MJB

            Grad: that your peers don’t know what the GPSA is speaks volumes. Many departments don’t even have a current field rep in that body–yet, this is the body that is pretty much it, as far as advocating for grads’ collective interests in front of the University.

            That you aren’t convinced grads have collective interests worth protecting is unfortunate, but the fact that the University acknowledges that we do, and thus permits the GPSA to operate in a very limited way, at least shows something–that decisions are being made that affect all of us. The GPSA has done a lot of good, but since it essentially exists and functions at the good graces of the administration, and has little control over purse strings or large-scale policy, it can’t do as much as a union can in the many areas contingent to our working lives.

            I agree with you–our relationships with our advisors are primary. Have you seen the study (cited below)? It shows that advisor-advisee relationships are prone to improvement with unionization. Granted, this is a recent study and one of the first of its kind, but so far there has been no evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, that has come up to counter it. A 2000 study that looked at the professor’s end of things is also discussed.


          • At What Cost

            Dear Grad and Science Grad, You have hit the bulls-eye in saying “Grad students are busy being grad students. Most of my peers barely know what the GPSA is, and we can’t expect anything to change. Even if the union gives opportunities for involvement from individual students, most students simply will not get involved.” This is our biggest fear. Grad students being busy will step back from the administration of the Union once the dust settles. Then we will continue paying AFT, NYSUT and NEA (who have no experience working with grad students in private universities) to campaign for us, with minimal input from us – waste of our investment in dues, and as a byproduct we empower a legally enforceable system which will have minimal input from students. If you think students will continue to participate in the union with sustained interest – just look at how the GPSA is struggling to staff all its committees. Grad students are busy!! How many vociferous student advocates of the union have participated in student governance through the GPSA?

          • Grad

            Science Grad: In most unions, members can be fined for not following union rules. But if we are taking strikes and slow-downs off of the table, then what bargaining power do we have to demand anything the university wasn’t willing to give already?

        • At What Cost

          Dear Grad and Grad Worker, The power of advocacy through combined bargaining is significant, and as we have stated in the article – this is something we believe in. However, since the national union dictates the course of our local and national efforts, it is important to ensure we have a voice in that body and are heard. AFT has less than 2% graduate students, while UAW is approaching 10%. Further, within UAW we can form an alliance with fellow private universities to push forward national agendas that matter to us as grad students – increased research funding etc.

          • MJB

            Dear At What Cost: There are many, many union members in the GPSA. However, a campaign of “official neutrality” that emanated from a few anti-union grads at the top of GPSA leadership last year has, sadly, chilled unionism among some GPSA participants. Some GPSA leaders saw the union as a threat to their ability to access the little power they currently have. As GPSA rep Jesse Goldberg explains in his letter from a few weeks ago (link below), there is no reason to think such would happen.

            Some unions are more dependent on the national for help during bargaining; some are less; some have been around for so long that they have had more help some cycles than others. University of Michigan maintains a healthy 75% membership in the union with their unit, and are gearing up for their new contract campaign. They have an extremely active union and have been around for 41 years. Here is their website:

            The speculation that people will stop caring once “the dust settles” (unclear what that means, but I assume it means the campaign) is strange, considering that union members are really excited to be recognized and start bargaining. Further, winning recognition triggers the chartering of the local, and with that, AFT involvement immediately is contingent on what we, as members, would like, because the campaign support part will be over. Structurally, AFT’s involvement will be reduced; ethically, it doesn’t operate on a topdown model. We are excited to democratically build and shape our local to reflect the wants and character of Cornell grads.

            On your argument about UAW/AFT percentages: The power argument is rather misleading, because the way unions work are both as members and as locals. AFT not only operates much more on autonomous local structures, but we at Cornell are in the unique position of being able to have our very own local.

            Here is one detailed remark about that. Currently, the NYU grad union (the only private university union thus far) is part of a large local of other workers, Local 2110, and have faced a lot of pushback for their agendas, because they are in the minority there. While I don’t being part of a bigger local is necessarily the worst possible thing in the world, it will be something Cornell grads won’t have to deal with at all, because they will have their own local. We can operate more or less autonomously as a local and get the help we need from the larger organization when we need it. The relationship is one of asking and providing services, not top down control.

            University of Chicago recently affirmed their affiliation with AFT. After the NLRB decision, Princeton publicly voted to affiliate with AFT. Others of our private peer institutions, including other Ivies, have been following suit and voting AFT (as their campaigns aren’t public yet, I cannot comment on which, but there are many which are regional).

            I’ll stop there, as I’m out of time–but Grad, if you want to know more about the union and how it works, drop an email to and a member or organizer can give actual answers to actual questions about that 🙂

          • GPSA member

            Hey MJB, I have never heard the GPSA say anything against the union and I am a regular member at the GPSA. Why are you disappointed with neutrality? It is unfortunate that anybody who does not tow the union line is automatically cast in bad light.

    • At What Cost

      Dear Grad Worker, The comparison to Brexit does not suggest that students are ill-informed, more that graduate students are passionate about undertakings (including efforts to better the nature of their work conditions), and that AFT (like Nigel Farage) is misguiding this passion in leading a personal campaign (for AFT and not for Cornell grads or CGSU).

      UAW through their recent championing efforts at NYU and now through affiliation with other Ivies is clearly a better choice today. In the last 8 years (since At What Cost 1.0), there have been tremendous changes in the space of unions for graduate students – to refer to a now ancient discussion is silly. Besides, can you name one large private university that AFT is representing. The list of large private universities that UAW is representing is long (few mentioned in the article).

  • MJB

    Your facts are a bit weird, sorry…

    Your link that supposedly calls out AFT’s ULPs goes to a college recruitment site for Chevron.

    Also, members do not file ULPs, employees do (against their employers). Members of a union can file complaints against their union, or vote to disaffiliate (or decertify). It’s that simple.

    Your citation that “only 18 unions have managed to execute a decertification” from AFT suggests, with no context or evidence, that more have wanted to but found it too hard. And actually, your link shows that 18 unions have filed a decertification petition–not that they have “executed” (or voted) to decertify. AFT has 3000 locals. Is it possible that unions just don’t decertify, or file petitions to decertify, very often? That is more likely the case, according to the little evidence you give, as well as a little bit more I had to find myself.

    Your “recent litigations in California” link goes to a page that cites the failed Friedrichs case, which was an effort, spearheaded by a right-wing group called Center for Individual Rights, to hobble all public sector unions at the Supreme Court level. It was not directed at AFT–CTA isn’t even affiliated with AFT!–but at the concept of unions, period.

    CGSU members voted to affiliate with AFT last year. UAW was in the running as well but their structure doesn’t allow for nearly as much local autonomy (we would be part of a UAW local and have to follow its bylaws; with AFT, we will have our own chartered local and bylaws). People who were part of the union then were given prolific information (meetings, documents, etc) so they could vote, and did. You could have, too. It wasn’t a secret and membership is open to all graduate students.

    Not only does no AFT grad local pay more than 2% in dues (U Michigan member dues are 1.65%, for instance; UIUC’s are around 1.3%, I think), the amount of money spent on this campaign couldn’t be paid back for decades, so acting like there are piles of money in some AFT vault that our dues go into is strange. Organizers aren’t wealthy. Dues pay wages and for campaigns and for advocacy and servicing contracts. How much members decide to pay, whether there is a maximum and from which threshold is something members will decide. That $800 per year is really out of nowhere.

    I could say more, but I really just wish you guys had done better. The cherrypicking and outright misrepresentation here is disappointing.

    • Grad Student

      Everyone, let’s not be hypocritical here. Both sides have left out information and/or misrepresented data so let’s not commit to a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. It’s unbecoming. Let’s just focus on debating the facts and leave the “personal touches” out of it. This also goes for Fact Checking Grad.

      • Grad Worker at Cornell

        Come on. Unbecoming? “Follow not in the footsteps of Brexit” sounds totally banana-nuts, I’m sorry.

      • Hume

        Speaking as someone who is not eligible to join the union, I have yet to see any case in which CGSU has “misrepresented” anything.

        However, as the comments on this incredibly poorly-argued letter point out, At What Cost continually advances bad-faith arguments based on obvious misrepresentations. While I think it’s fine to not want a union because you don’t want to pay dues (even though, as CGSU has repeatedly pointed out, they would be very poor negotiators if they weren’t able to increase stipends so that any dues costs would be negligible), to wrap these (ultimately irrational) arguments in this constant stream of bad faith concern-trolling backed up by complete nonsense (see the comment below concerning strike benefits) is transparent propaganda.

        You are drawing a false equivalency.

      • MJB

        The title of the Letter to the Editor is “Know Your Union.” The purpose of the letter is, ostensibly, to provide information. If the information is either incorrect or mishandled, then it defeats the stated purpose of the letter. I don’t believe it is hypocritical to point out all the ways in which this particular letter fails.

        If we are supposed to debate the facts, then it IS disappointing that an opportunity to provide good arguments and facts was wasted here. I don’t think it’s personal–but people have feelings about this.

        What data do you believe has been misrepresented by the union?

        • At What Cost

          Dear MJB, Hume, Grad Worker, If you thought students were not misinformed, you’d be surprised to hear that over 60 students have withdrawn their authorization cards in the last month since they had signed through coercion/misinformation.

          • Grad Worker at Cornell

            That’s not proof that they withdrew their cards because they were coerced or intimidated–it might just be because they felt like it. It may be proof that your crude emails managed to fearmonger semi-successfully.

            Scores of grads also complained both formally and informally about your tactics, last month. Are you willing to disclose the numbers who wrote into your pretend grievance process to complain about you?

          • Also a Grad worker

            I have been coerced and morally pressured to sign the union card by a worker from AFT representing CGSU. My friends and colleagues have withdrawn their signatures now since they have learnt of the empty promises CGSU is making. They promised one of my friends, an international student that they could help him secure a loan towards a car without previous credit history. As an international student he believed them through ignorance. Terrible campaigning, trying to force a union through!!

    • At What Cost

      Dear MJB, The link to AFT’s ULPs seems to work; in any case here is the URL:

      Your understanding of ULPs is incomplete – here is Federal Labor Relation’s definition of ULP with regard to unions –

      The fact that few unions have decertified (as you have eloquently mentioned) goes back to the reality that the process of decertification is tedious, especially without backing or resources. Hence, a choice to unionize today will realistically be binding to graduate students at Cornell henceforth (unless the NLRB rules otherwise across the board).

      The ‘Recent Litigations in California’ link leads to a Google search with listings associated with the case. Since there are many perspectives about the issue, we have been careful to provide a link that shares all views. However, the fact that we will have no say (given that graduate students are a gross minority of under 2% of AFT) in the political agenda of AFT (and that AFT does not care about its members’ political affiliation) is exemplified here.

      To claim that I need to sign up for a Union to know what contract I am signing into (vis a vis AFT) is ludicrous. Graduate students should be encouraged to make a choice through all information.

      CGSU’s website (links provided in the article) states that students will be paying AFT and NYSUT $400 – $600 depending on their stipends. $450 times 2400 is over a MILLION dollars towards AFT and NYSUT. A report from the Department of Labor here lists the salaries of all AFT staff in the year 2015-2016 – you may note that organizers have received six figure salaries.

      While we may have a say in how much we owe CGSU as members, we will have no say in how much we owe AFT + NYSUT + NEA (this is already part of the contract signed by CGSU with them).

    • Fact-checking Grad

      MJB, to your point that organizers are not wealthy, check out the salary for one of the on-campus organizers, Daniel Esakoff: – total 2013 compensation of $171,562. Who are the other organizers currently at Cornell? What are their current salaries?

      • MJB

        Daniel Esakoff’s job title, as your link shows, is not organizer, but labor relations specialist. His job is not limited to organizing, but he does a ton of other things as well–including helping to negotiate contracts and advise on the law.

        You can also see he has been doing this a while, as the data on that Union Facts page dates to 2002, and I happen to know he started as an organizer in the 80s–he’s been doing this for over 30 years.

        According to one source, organizers for AFT get paid, on average, $49k per year, around $12k more than average organizer pay. The information on this site is self-reported and it’s unclear how old it is.

        If you want to find out what an individual AFT organizer makes, ask him next time you see him, if you have the courage to ask someone such a personal question. But in the meantime, their union has a contract that has current organizer pay scales in it, which you can find here.

        I realize that asking a provocative question in a comments thread is much more titillating than doing a small bit of research. Making a mistake is forgivable, though.

  • Fact Checking Grad

    A single point of clarification (out of many, but this one struck me as particularly odd). I wondered at that 0% spent on strike benefits and whether perhaps that was because none of AFT’s locals had gone on strike in 2013. Turns out, there’s a tab at the top of that page you linked that answers that very question!

    No AFT locals have gone on strike since May 2011 (for 22 days), so of course they didn’t spend any money on strike benefits… You’re either too lazy to bother checking to context for your claims, or you’re okay misrepresenting the facts in order to sway people to your cause. Both options make me very uneasy.

    • Grad Worker at Cornell

      Nice point.

      The disingenuousness of At What Cost’s demands for transparency and more information on the part of the union is striking (pun of course intended) as they bristle with decontextualized factoids and outright misinformation.

      Not to mention suggestions that the AFT is the equivalent of a Scrooge McDuck/Nigel Farage conspiracy, with buckets of money sitting around to bathe in extracted by force from helpless grads.

      At What Cost sound like cranks.

      • Psych Grad

        Grad Worker at Cornell: “At What Cost sound like cranks.” Why are you personally attacking the individual members of At What Cost? Stick to the issues and leave personal feelings out this. Not how a union should portray itself.

        • J B

          I’m with Psych Grad on this one. Grad Worker at Cornell is referring to his/her peers, PhD students at an Ivy League institution, as “cranks.” Regardless that you share differences of opinion, you should still show them some mutual respect. Is this how the union will address its members if it forms? It doesn’t seem that 100% of graduate students support the union, so inevitably there will be a portion of future members that will be disgruntled. Are all these people “cranks?”

    • At What Cost

      Dear Fact Checking Grad, Thanks a lot for bringing this to our notice. We do apologies for our oversight. Please find below AFT’s expenditure filings from the years 2009, 2010 and 2011 (years when they supported strikes affecting over 3,000 member workers in total – they paid ZERO in strike benefits. Of course, these doubts can be put to rest immediately if CGSU can provide a copy of their contract with AFT, NYSUT and NEA proving that they have negotiated strike benefits.

      • Deceived Grad

        This is appalling!! Looking through these documents, I did not realize how much money the organizers were making to push the agenda of a union forward. Now I am skeptical of everything the CGSU has said since I am not sure if the speakers were fellow well-intentioned students or paid workers with a single aim to create a union. CGSU needs to be upfront about how many AFT members are working on campus and how much they are being paid!! This is unreal #ConflictofInterest

  • Yellowdog

    Establish an argument. Don’t beg the question. “Where will the money go?”, “why not UAW?”, “Are you like a teacher?”, “What’s in the agreement?”, “What about those 30,000 missing emails?”. Asking questions and making attacks via association (they supported Hillary over Bernie!) is a way of attacking without taking a position.

    This letter holds up NYU as a preferable model. Great. Yet NYU grads pay 2% dues, which – funnily enough – is the exact number At What Cost gets so hot and bothered about in their article “Dues Without Democracy”. The arguments made against unionization in their email blast “You can’t Opt-out!” would apply to all unions – including NYU, Columbia, and Harvard.

    Not taking a position makes this a fun little game of anti-union whack-a-mole: AWC attacked the UAW in the 2001 campaign as not the right union for Cornell. Now it’s the right choice and AFT is wrong. They attack 2% dues as too high. Next they hold up NYU.

    This could be seen a little more than thinly veiled anti-unionism if AWC would elaborate what about the “path-breaking” Columbia decision they find valuable. Furthermore, what dues would they be willing to pay in order to achieve those benefits?

    But begging the question allows you to raise doubt without establishing an argument. What was in those 30,000 emails?

  • Engineering Grad

    There are so many things with this articular, I’ll just state a few.

    I like the paragraph that starts with “Do you share the same work concerns as a nurse or a kindergarten teacher?” to criticize the affiliation with the American Federation of Teachers, and then goes on to argue that it makes more sense to affiliate with the United Auto Workers. By the way, AFT represents graduate workers at the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Oregon, etc. Also, recently the union organization in Princeton also affiliated with AFT.

    Also 57 alleged violations of the Duty of Fair Representation (and 129 allegations of ULPs) out of “1.6 Million” members is a “sordid” picture? Interesting that this is considered outrageous, but when we talk about the amount of unfairly handled grievances and tens of issues affecting hundred of grads, the administration claims they’re doing great and we don’t need a union. By the way, UAW that has roughly 400,000 members ( , also has around 5800 alleged ULPs, including around 3900 cases of duty of fair representation ( So it is beyond me how these statistics are used *against* AFT.

    I Totally believe you that your issue with AFT is that they endorsed Clinton instead of Sanders (which the UAW also did by the way).

    The claim that AFT is in it to make money is unsubstantiated and can be levied against any union, because union take dues so that they are able to function. And as was pointed out by Fact Checking Grad, the “0%” strike fund is because they did Not strike. By the way, graduate workers are Not fans of striking and want to do their research work; so not sure how this is a bad thing.

    • At What Cost

      Dear Engineering Grad, Princeton is the first large private university to our knowledge that the AFT has aligned with – and it has gained no traction there. UAW on the other hand championed the efforts towards our right to unionize (through NYU). Therefore they have experience in dealing with a private university. Further, we will be in good company with Harvard, Colombia, NYU, UMAss, UConn and the entire University of California system (to mention a few), and can further our agenda on the national scale like increased research funding.

      • MJB

        The University of Chicago has been affiliated with AFT since 2010, fighting a ferocious anti-union administration. (see 2/2010)

        Princeton is the only private university union who has been PUBLIC with their vote post-NLRB. Traditionally unions aren’t public with their campaigns until later on in their organizing process. Your comment that AFT has gained “no traction” is a bit odd, considering that they only voted to affiliate six weeks ago and the NLRB decision that permits grads to unionize only came about 3 months ago. I’m sure Princeton grads would appreciate a little patience 🙂

        I am intrigued by your statement, “we will be in good company” with UAW. Is At What Cost planning to either a) start their own union affiliated with UAW or b) convince CGSU members to vote to disaffiliate with AFT and affiliate with UAW? That would really be something. Good luck! I helped out a bit on our affiliation process, and it took a really long time.

        I somehow get the feeling, though, that you are not so much interested in affiliating with another union as you are interested in having no union, as your constant complaints about dues costs (which all unions have) as well as other typical anti-union statements you’ve made, indicate.

        I’m also interested to see what you’ve found that would lead you to believe that affiliation with the United Auto Workers gives an advantage to push an agenda of increased science funding that affiliation with the AFT would not. Further, whether our locals are affiliated with AFT, Unite Here (as Yale is), SEIU, CWA or UAW, grads are in solidarity with each other and talk to each other, so it only seems like the wider-spread our affiliations are and the stronger our locals are, the more we can further our influence. Check out to find out more.

  • BioChem Grad

    It seems odd that the authors of this article didn’t do the reader the service of identifying their organization. The 4 people listed here are the unelected leaders of AtWhatCost – a group with some strange ties to the university and certain Alt-Right faculty. The purpose of this letter isn’t to inform graduate students about the pros and cons of unionization, but rather to repeat their anti-union talking points (which have long been debunked).

    • At What Cost

      Dear BioChem Grad, The Cornell Sun declined to publish our article under the title of At What Cost (this is how we had originally submitted the article) in accordance with their policies. We have NO MORE TIES with the university than any average grad student. Any support from the University would be in violation of standard NLRB guidelines. Hence, they obviously don’t support us, and we too would rather not land the University in a compromised position. As fellow graduate students, we spend our time, our effort (and our money to host a website) to ensure transparency in the unionization efforts at Cornell.

  • Psych Grad

    Despite some of the language in the article, I thought it was quite informative. If CGSU had done its research, why would they affiliate with AFT and not UAW? Have they answered this question somewhere else? If so, I’d like to read the answer. Referencing the 2002 campaign is moot point since the landscapes of UAW and the University have surely changed.

  • Frustrated student

    It is sad that the Union that is presenting ‘righteous frustration’ with the current system is adopting a closed, covert campaign filled with lies and coercion techniques. If you are fighting for what is right, you should be more virtuous! I want better work conditions but I will not vote for thuggery!!