Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

March 26, 2017

Graduate Students to Vote Monday and Tuesday on Union Recognition

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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.

14 thoughts on “Graduate Students to Vote Monday and Tuesday on Union Recognition

  1. 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 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 want 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.

    • Another case of using misleading evidence- the Rogers study the union and NLRB often cites which claims that unions don’t negatively impact the academic setting – is at best irrelevant to Cornell and at worst 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).

  2. As a public employee, I salute Cornell graduate students for making the effort. Despite the claims up above, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to unionization. Unlike many other developed countries, employees in this country are overwhelmingly at will and employers are not contractually bound to any benefits or wages that they themselves set. Only a contract that is legally enforceable will ensure that an individuals working conditions cannot be unilaterally changed on them. If you believe sincerely that you will be able to negotiate for yourself independently better results with absolute no legal ground to stand on, then you clearly have not been reading the tea leaves of where all employers, educational institutions or not, have been going in how they treat their workers.

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