After three years of organizing and campaigning by Cornell Graduate Students United, Cornell graduate students head to the polls on Monday and Tuesday to cast ballots for the union recognition election.
The results of this election will determine whether Cornell graduate students establish CGSU — with affiliates American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers — as their graduate student union.
If a majority of voting graduate students vote for representation by the union, Cornell “shall immediately grant recognition to the union as the exclusive collective bargaining representative,” according to the contract between CGSU and the University.
That bargaining representative would have all the rights and obligations of a National Labor Review Board-certified union.
While unions have been commonplace at public universities — with CGSU members frequently pointing to University of Michigan, Oregon State and University of California, Berkeley as examples — their counterparts at private universities have been far more rare.
In fact, it was not until a National Labor Relations Board ruling in August of 2016 that graduate student union campaigns began to fully take stride at private universities.
The ruling, originating from a case between Columbia University and The Graduate Workers of Columbia, said graduate students can be considered workers with the rights to unionize.
Out of this ruling, the CGSU campaign began to push forward with greater momentum as the ruling triggered provisions in the contract negotiated between CGSU and Cornell in May 2016.
While CGSU began as a grassroots campaign in 2014, rallying around the issue of guaranteeing workers’ compensation for graduate students, CGSU garnered more support after the NLRB ruling.
This growing support culminated in CGSU presenting its representation petition with over 1,200 signatures to the administration on March 8 and announcing its intention to file membership cards to the American Arbitration Association.
The increased support for CGSU, however, also brought wariness and opposition.
Early last semester, the campus group At What Cost emerged to question CGSU policies and demand greater transparency in the unionization effort. This opposition did not fade.
Days before the election, some graduate students were still unsure of their vote and many others resolute in their opposition.
When AAA verified that the membership cards represented 30 percent of the bargaining unit — teaching assistants, research assistants, graduate assistants and graduate research assistants — the election was scheduled.
CGSU and the University collectively agreed on in-person voting in their contract. Voting will occur in polling locations across campus, assigned to graduate students in the bargaining unit depending on their field. Student eligible to vote have been notified via email of their polling location.
These locations include Room G01 in Biotech, B73 in Warren Hall, Goldman Lounge in Duffield and the former Temple of Zeus space in Goldwin Smith Hall.
Voting hours are 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.
One off-campus location at the Geneva campus will be open for voting on Tuesday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Whether students head to the polls tomorrow clad in red supporting the CGSU or confidently cast a ballot to deny the establishment of a union, the election alone marks a historic occasion for Cornell and for private universities nationwide.