March 27, 2017

EDITORIAL: Understanding Unionization

Print More

On March 27 and 28, Cornell graduate students will vote on the question of their potential  unionization, the finale to a series of events prompted by an August 2016 NLRB ruling that graduate students can be considered workers with the right to unionize. This is a reversal of a 2004 ruling which stated that graduate students should have a “primarily educational, not economic, relationship with their university.”

The role of graduate students has become highly contentious; students argue they play an indispensable yet under-appreciated role in Cornell’s research initiatives and course curricula. Cornell Graduate Students United supports unionization as a means of increasing the benefits of all graduate students at Cornell through a collective bargaining unit. The potential union will aim to give graduate students a say over issues ranging from health insurance to stipends and wage increases, ultimately to improve students’ living and working conditions.

Critics of the union point out potentially flawed voting procedures and the potential union’s ability to fairly represent grad students. At Yale, “slim margins of victory” in the voter turnouts revealed divisions across departments when it came to unionization. Due to similar conflicts within Cornell’s graduate student body, it is difficult to gauge whether a union’s bargaining efforts can adequately serve and reflect the concerns of graduate students at large; divisions can “dampen the effect of a union’s arguments,” according to Prof. Ronald Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations. Other criticisms of unionization include the potential damage to faculty-student relationships and fears that the reach of the union will extend beyond the economic issues of students and intrude on academic decisions that are better left to the University.

The Sun takes no official position for or against unionization, but we urge students to be cognizant of the potential union’s powers and limitations.  It is in their best interest to be as informed as possible about the benefits and drawbacks of the unionization before casting their ballots, as this decision will affect not only currently employed students, but also generations of graduate students to come.

  • Power In A Union

    Just look across to the other hill and you’ll see the impact of union power. The Ithaca College contingent faculty union just got their members significantly better pay and job stability, two of their top priorities.

    Faculty and administrators here have not been able to adequately hide the fact that their main goal is to keep grad workers in the low-power position, with little control over how they are treated, how they are advised, how they are paid, or how they and dependents are taken care of as they dedicate years of their life to helping Cornell function. This lack of fair treatment, where administrators can get six-figure salaries for adding no value to the university while grad workers take classes and work as TAs and work on their advisors research and try to move their own research along while barely making enough to rent in Ithaca…where faculty “advisors” can fail their advisees, ignoring calls and emails for months, treating them unprofessionally, or leaving them to learn on their own, paying attention only when they need the students to run their experiments or do other research for them, all without being held accountable in any way…that power imbalance and all its ugly consequences is alive and well at Cornell.

    The only reason the union effort has resonated with so much of the grad population is because the administration, despite knowing these and other problems have existed for years, has done nothing about it because they have not needed to. They’ve always been able to just get away with this public mistreatment and exploitation. With a grad union, attention will now be paid, as it should have been all along.

  • SMB

    The Cornell Daily Sun has put forward a piece of misinformation in this article without adequately qualifying it: “Other criticisms of unionization include the potential damage to faculty-student relationships.”
    This Newspaper published a letter signed by multiple ILR faculty on November 7 who explained there is no research supporting damage to faculty-student relationships due to grad unions. In fact, grad unions perhaps even strengthen these relationships.

    • Tom

      What percentage of ILR faculty are reflexively pro-union? 90%?

  • Tom

    There is a serious underlying problem when graduate students are underpaid for their work and universities rely heavily on low paid adjunct faculty, yet tuition and fees are at stratospheric levels. Perhaps it is initiatives like the proposed special resource center for first generation students that was discussed recently in the Sun or the dozens of diversity administrators. The amount of student debt nationwide is over $1 trillion dollars. The system is going to break.

    • Hateful bigot

      Inflation is too much *money* chasing too few goods.

      When the feds throw money with lots of tuition aid, that money will dive up the cost of tuition.

      Second, if graduate students and adjunct faculty are underpaid, it is the market at work. Your pay depends on how in-demand your skills are. My plumber charges $75 per hour because I don’t want to deal with sewage. My electrician charges $100 per hour because I don’t want to get shocked.

      If there is a shortage of adjuncts, universities will have to raise the offered pay to attract more people to that position. It sounds cruel, but that’s how things work.

      There was a time when getting a college degree meant you could earn more money. So the investment had a value. These days, you’re looking at $60,000 * 4 years = $240,000.

      Few majors pay that kind of money. So a college degree in non-high-paying majors will decrease in value. If a gender studies major will only get you a $20,000 barista job, that gender studies major isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

  • Hateful bigot

    I 100% 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.

  • gradstudent

    I heard no discussion about what I feel is the biggest issue: why i can be forced into a union? If you what a a union go for it and leave me alone. Why do you think you know better what is good for me?

    • Hateful bigot

      Because leftism is all about forcing people at gunpoint, because they know what’s better for you that you do. Hence the central planning, social engineering, and general meddling.