From a rally on Saturday, AFT President Randi Weingarten '80 speaks to a crowd of graduate students.

Katie Sims / Sun Staff Photographer

From a rally on Saturday, AFT President Randi Weingarten '80 speaks to a crowd of graduate students.

March 26, 2017

AFT President Randi Weingarten ’80 Rallies With Grads Before Major Vote

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Randi Weingarten ’80 returned to Ithaca on Saturday to discuss the same topic she studied as a student in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations: unionization.

As the president of the American Federation of Teachers — the national union affiliated with Cornell Graduate Students United — Weingarten praised Cornell graduate workers and urged them to vote for unionization on Monday and Tuesday.

In an address to graduate students gathered at Hasbrouck Community Center, Weingarten assured the group that the AFT would not try to diminish local autonomy. Instead, she said, it would be a group that would support graduates if they needed it.

Weingarten highlighted the diversity of locals that are affiliated with the AFT. She said the 3,500 locals “are as different as they can be,” and pointed out that the AFT is still growing, especially since the election of President Donald Trump.

She said that when the first travel ban was announced, she and her partner went to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City to protest with hundreds of others.

While on her way, she said she got a call saying that a professor at CUNY — who belonged to a union affiliated with the AFT — was unable to enter the United States because of the ban.

Through working with a variety of people including U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the professor was able to come home, an event which Weingarten said was an example of the union having someone’s back.

“If you vote to organize and ratify a union this Monday and Tuesday, you will never, ever, ever, ever see me ever telling you what to do,” Weingarten said. “What you will see is a union throughout this country who will have your back every single day, for the issues that you champion, for the people that you represent and for the country that we want to be.”

“That is who a union is these days. That is who a union needs to be these days. That is what, if you vote for a union, that is what the graduate students/workers at Cornell will be,” she added.

Weingarten then turned to more local issues, and in what she said was “the only political piece I’ll say today,” criticized Prof. David Collum, chair of the chemistry department, who sent out an email to his colleagues calling graduate student unionization “an existential risk to Cornell’s graduate program.”

“Look, I went to this school. I went to the school of labor relations at this University. So personally I am really offended that somebody who has a lot of power, and who has tenure and who has voice would actually say in a university that has an ILR school here, that having real labor relations is an existential threat,” Weingarten said.

“Don’t tell me that they’re an existential threat when we have on this campus, and what makes this campus a great campus, what makes it a land-grant university is having an ILR school,” she continued to applause.

In an interview with The Sun, Weingarten highlighted CGSU’s position as what she called a bottom-up organization and criticized Cornell’s administration for its behavior during the campaign.

“This is not top-down,” she said of the unionization campaign. “When the boss tries to make it that way, that is the boss attempting — whether the boss is a university president or whether the boss is the head of Walmart — it is the boss trying to create fear and polarize in the same kind of way as Donald Trump tries to polarize.”

Weingarten also condemned what she called a “whispering campaign” whose effects she said she saw even since she arrived earlier that morning.

Earlier several graduate students spoke about their struggles with having kids as a reason for their support for CGSU.

They spoke about the “exorbitant” cost of childcare in Ithaca and pointed out that even though at times things might be alright, a union is necessary for when things go wrong.

“What I’ve experienced with fellow grads and friends who are nervous about unionization is this notion that ‘well we’re okay already,’” said Anaar Desai-Stephens, grad, with her child in her arms. “But sometimes that falls through, that relying on these individual links with our advisors, our departments is really tenuous at best.”

She added that many changes around campus that benefited her, such as the ability to pump on campus, were things that happened because of collective advocacy around campus.

“Asking for a union is not a sign of our privilege, it’s a sign of our solidarity,” Desai-Stephens said.

Jane Glaubman, grad, thanked Weingarten and praised the relationship between CGSU and the AFT.

“They always say the union is an outside force coming in,” she said. “Our union was inside people, it was grad students who started a union, but we needed help, and AFT came through and they’ve done a fantastic job.”

  • Since the AFT would get approximately $1 million in dues taken from our wages each year, it’s hardly surprising that Mrs. Weingarten want us to vote in favor of unionization, but it doesn’t mean that we — as opposed to the AFT — would actually benefit from it. The problem is that CGSU is making the case in favor of unionization dishonestly by cherry-picking the evidence and neglecting to mention crucial information. For instance, it makes a lot of the situation at Oregon State University where graduate students obtained a higher stipend, but there are other universities where it didn’t go that well. The only study I was able to find on the effects of unionization for graduate students concludes that it has no effect on net compensation and doesn’t affect the probability of getting coverage for students and their dependents. CGSU also claims that, if we don’t like the offer Cornell makes us, we can just vote against the contract to reject it. But as long as the National Labor Relations Board, which is going to be filled with people appointed by Trump, rules that Cornell bargained in good faith, the administration can just implement its last offer whether we like it or not. If anyone is interested, I wrote a post on my blog where I explain these points and many other things, which I encourage you to read before you vote. I made sure to provide evidence for every single factual claim I make, so that anyone can check that what I say is true. I really wish there had been a real debate so that people were able to get more information about this.

  • Jason

    The mind is an attribute of the individual. There is no such thing as a collective brain. There is no such thing as a collective thought. An agreement reached by a group of men is only a compromise or an average drawn upon many individual thoughts. It is a secondary consequence. The primary act—the process of reason—must be performed by each man alone. We can divide a meal among many men. We cannot digest it in a collective stomach. No man can use his lungs to breathe for another man. No man can use his brain to think for another. All the functions of body and spirit are private. They cannot be shared or transferred.

    Ayn Rand (Someone you were probably taught to hate most likely)

  • Alex

    If you are unsure about the union or have a feeling against it but don’t want to upset your union friends – VOTE NO! Make sure to vote! This is a decision so permanent and in my opinion destructive that it is better to vote no than end up stuck with a bad union. The union could have been TA only, for example, rather than include RAs who really should be opposed to this. This can only hurt research productivity, and frankly the value of a Cornell PhD.

    The union likes to cite the Rogers study to claim that no adverse effects of unions have been found, but taking a look at it, it is at least irrelevant or even flawed and biased.

    The study only looked at four non-union universities, none of them private. The students who responded were self-selecting and the response rate was not very high, and they were mostly TAs, and only 27% RAs. The fields were almost entirely English, History, and Psychology, with 20% CS and no science or engineering. The respondents were generally non-international. This is very different from Cornell’s graduate population. The non-union mean stipend was $15k, so far from Cornell’s that it makes it hard to extrapolate the results to our case.

    All of the unionized schools surveyed had been unionized for a long time. This would ignore instabilities which could come from enhanced negative effects for the years after the union establishes.

    Additionally the bias is clear in their questions. For example, they ask ““Do you regard the pay and benefits you receive from your assistantship as adequate given the AMOUNT OF WORK you do?” (emphasis added here). This biases the answerer to think of the pay as being in exchange for a service, but the stipend was never intended to be a salary in exchange for labor, but rather to help cover annual expenses. It should have been phrased “… adequate to live on?” or just left out altogether. This is just an example. Surveys have to be taken with a grain of salt, because it’s easy to get any result you want or leave out data showing the opposite. Meanwhile, it is obvious that the union is promoting a hostile environment already at Cornell (just look at the front page outrage the union stirs up against a professor sending a rather mild private email).

  • David Collum

    My two cents: please vote. It is important. That is my real name, BTW. Rumors that I am a despicable human being have not been substantiated…but the jury is out I guess.

  • Hateful bigot

    I fully support the unionization effort. There is no better way to teach leftist grad students how pernicious unions are.

    So, yes please. Vote to unionize, pay your dues, and learn a lesson or two about reality that you won’t get inside the Cornell bubble from your left-wing professors.

  • Hateful bigot

    We may be witnessing the dying gasps of unions.

    Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association was deadlocked last year, and it’s going to get a redux with Gorsuch on the court.

    Abood is going to get overturned, and unions will have to earn their keep.

    Good times.

  • Hateful bigot

    I am ready to bet $5 that the unionization vote will pass, proving that factory workers at the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee and Boeing in South Carolina are smarter as a whole.

    A graduate degree doesn’t mean cow excrement.

  • Paying your salary

    Hey Randi – nice touch with the blue jeans and t-shirt. Did you tell them about your house in the Hamptons, and the millions you have made off the back of the workers?

    • Hateful bigot

      Our gullible grad students don’t need to hear any of that stuff. Let them think they’re smart.

      I respect the blue collar workers at VW and Boeing who voted against unionization more than these people.

  • acturg

    All one has to do is read book “Class Warfare” by Steven Brill to see first hand the poor job Ms. Weingarten has done for NYC public school students.
    Hope those who are swayed by her words do their own independent due diligence.

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