March 23, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Vote ‘yes’ for fairness, respect and democracy

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To the Editor:

As we move toward our union recognition election next week we would like to tell you why we — 5 active members of CGSU — are proudly voting “yes.”  The reason is simply this: CGSU creates a structure to uphold the values most central to our University’s mission for ourselves and future graduate workers. Fairness, respect and democracy.

Fairness: Our Grad Union creates structures which will enable us to leverage our collective power to bargain for fair work and labor conditions protected by a legally binding contract. We’re not making unreasonable requests, we’re aiming to negotiate for basic labor protections and commonsense reforms which will enable us to do our jobs better. For instance, basic Cornell health insurance for a spouse and two children costs approximately $8000 annually — well out of reach given the majority of our salaries are less than $30,000 per year. Our dental plan is advertised with pictures of smiling grads with perfect teeth — and yet for the $278 annual premium, the maximum annual benefit is capped at total cost of $750 meaning that the actual cost of major dental procedures such as root canals or wisdom tooth extraction (ranging in the thousands of dollars) is completely outside the scope of coverage. This situation persists in spite of years of GPSA advocacy for better dental coverage.  All other Cornell employees have access to much better. New York Workers Compensation coverage only applies under a narrow range of circumstances and covers only the state-mandated minimum level of benefits. Medical Leave benefits, provided to all other workers at Cornell, remain unavailable to graduate workers. CGSU can use our collective leverage to create a fair system of work and employment conditions in order fix these problems. We can’t promise everything all at once, but we can promise this: voting “yes” creates a structure that will enable us to work toward addressing the major issues that have not been resolved through our current systems of governance.

Respect: In addition to allowing us to negotiate the conditions of our employment, our union also enables us to create a community organization that respects the work we do. CGSU strives to create an inclusive union which brings marginalized groups to the forefront. Our success as a union is bound up in our support for one another — which is why a union contract is our goal. A contract presents a way to bring the needs of all graduate employees into the discussion, so that we can address them in unified negotiations with management and have them codified in practice. Regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin or immigration status, your voice will be heard. In addition, our union can bargain for an effective grievance procedure that respects graduate work. Currently, in spite of recent reforms, the grievance policy still allows the Provost to retain final authority on any grievance. A legally recognized union will be able to bargain for a contract that includes a grievance procedure that is binding and independent from Cornell administration. We’re grateful for the respect and public endorsements we’ve received recently from ILR Faculty and the Mayor of Ithaca, though disappointed by the administration’s continued attempts to fight against our rights as workers. A vote “yes” for our grad union is a vote for respect of our academic labor and respect for all graduate workers in today’s uncertain political environment.

Democracy: We’re voting “yes” because we’re building a system of governance where all of us have the power to shape the conditions of our work and employment. In our political system, we’re reminded every day of the dangers posed by abuses of executive power. CGSU is a truly member-driven organization. We’ve embodied this core value in every step of creating our Grad Union to date: from creating our constitution, our democratic vote to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers as opposed to other national unions, and now in our union recognition election. We will continue to embody this value as we move forward with creating our negotiating committee to bargain with the University for fair wages and benefits (see more on our web site). We chose AFT because of their respect for our local autonomy, formalized in our constitution and bylaws. We are proud of the successful partnership we’ve formed with AFT, grateful for their unwavering commitment to standing up for our rights as graduate workers, and appreciative of the tireless organizing support they have provided as we move toward a union recognition election. We work in solidarity with the AFT as we strive to create a legally-recognized and democratically-run, independent local union of Cornell grads. Voting “yes” for our graduate union is a vote for a more democratic and inclusive Cornell.

We’ve started an organization from scratch with our passion for fairness, respect and democracy.  And now we’re inviting you to join us and make it official. Our choice is clear. Let’s take this bold step forward when we go to the polls next week.

Paul Berry, grad
Juan Guevara, grad
Caroline Walker, grad
Tyler McCann, grad
Rose Agger, grad

  • Frustrated grad student

    Vote no against unneeded cost, deliberate misrepresentation of facts, and no track record of transparency. Vote no against a union that has not satisfactorily guaranteed that stipends will not be equalized across the university. Vote no against a union that caters only to the most extreme voices. Vote against a union that failed to gain any traction until professional full time staffers came in to force the issue. Vote against a national union only interested in gaining $880,000 a year in perpetuity, because that is not a fair union.

    Vote against a union that went around the decision of students to refuse the subpoena, and visit their homes anyway. Vote against a union that viciously attacks any and all speech against the union by anyone, accusing administrators and faculty of violating the agreement and accusing students of being fronts for the administration. Vote against a union that dismisses all claims of harassment as overblown or fabricated, because that is not a respectful union.

    Vote against a union that has engaged in voter suppression, with the same rhetoric used by politicians backing voter ID laws or restrictions on early voting. Vote against a union that seems unconcerned with achieving high voter turnout, instead claiming only motivated students should vote. Vote against a union that seems worried 100% voter turnout results in a loss for them, because that is not a democratic union.

    • DJT

      The Sun has only given fair publicity to pro-union opinions. The Sun has not promoted transparent or open dialogue from both sides. The bias is clear. Shameful!

  • Union Jack

    It’s disappointing the anti-union folks engage in all sorts of ‘deliberate misrepresentation of facts’ in the process of accusing us of doing so

    The subpoena, for instance, was because Cornell refused to provide the list of member contact info for our bargaining unit — which they were legally obligated to provide. The word “subpoena” sounds scary, so apparently they decided they’d force us to file one if we wanted the accurate information they were legally requited to provide., then they’d get lots of fear-inspiring PR by repeating the word “subpoena” over and over again, and sending out emails to the listserv about it

    Meanwhile the same Cornell management filed an amicus brief with six other Ivies in 2016 opposing our right to be considered workers under the NLRB, never mind we pay taxes, etc.. Nice for them to have lots of workers and just call us call us something different + not worry about basic worker benefits or protections

    Fortunately CGSU’s been able to stand-up to the onslaught of fear-mongering PR, coming from Cornell mgmt and this anti-union student group they like to help promote. But the intellectual basis of the counter-arguments expressed here doesn’t stand up at all, the subponea is just one example. These arguments are #sad

    • Frustrated grad student

      You are ignoring the part where students did not want their information shared, and really did not want anyone visiting them at home, but staffers still showed up. Dont know how they got the addresses but it sounds very shady. The word subpoena isn’t the issue, it’s the blatant disregard for students’ desire for privacy.

      • Union Jack

        I do hear the concern and acknowledge absolutely that many of us feel uncomfortable with the house visits, myself included, they certainly have not always been the most appropriate strategy, esp for this generation. We’ve worked with AFT to improve a better strategy but admittedly it hasn’t always been perfect. As a member, I do share your concerns and i’m optimistic these issues are resolved or resolvable (and, fortunately, certainly won’t be an issue once the campaign is over, i think we’re all ready for that 😉

        the only point i wanted to make about the subpoenas is that the contact information including addresses is the information that cornell is legally required to provide our union campaign under federal labor law. the university has it — in fact many folks have received personal signed letters at their home mailbox from dean knuth over the last week about how great our grad school is — the idea behind the nlrb law is that management has preferential access to communicating with us and dominating the conversation in both overt and subtle ways, labor law is designed to give unions a chance to level the playing field in campaign season (as we see with ‘ask a deans’ the mgmt does have some real advantages)

        but like all regulations it’s also imperfect, and i really acknowledge this point social media / texts are probably more appropriate tools. we hope you’ll consider our major campaign issues on our updated website, and consider maybe even..

        • Frustrated grad student

          Nope, you lost me with your stalking like behavior. Should have really not pursued that ridiculous strategy. Especially not students that said they didn’t want their adresses shared. If someone refuses to give you their number at a bar, how do you think they’ll react to a call from you later?

          • Sonya

            I’m sorry to hear you feel that way frustrated, I’m a supporter but understand the frustration too

            I do respect that we’ll make our own decisions with out local union post election if we win to rebalance the power dynamics & get affordable childcare and workplace benefits we need and I’m #VotingYes for this, but I’d tell these folks to learn a bunch of lessons from the tactics for the next campaign at penn, princeton, northwestern, etc..

          • Frustrated grad student

            It is my sincerest hope that the union fails, but we then form a local independent union. We can afford to be picky right now, and wait for the right fit. I definitely agree I will be happy when the election is over

  • Union Jack