hall letter to the editor
March 31, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Is my vote not ‘free?’

Print More

To the Editor:

The fact that the union election is too close to call was to be expected. By alleging electioneering and violations of the May 16, 2016 conduct agreement, both the Cornell Administration and CGSU laid the groundwork for contesting the results earlier this week, as the Sun reported.

What is less clear is the basis for the contestations. The Sun breaks down the 81 unresolved ballots as follows: six unopened absentee ballots, sixty-five “challenge ballots to be discussed further”  and ten “unresolved challenge ballots” in which voters “did not mark their intentions clearly.” I would appreciate info on what qualifies as an “unresolved” ballot. Of the latter seventy-five, who challenged these ballots, and what criteria are invoked? I find it difficult to understand how a ballot with such obvious and simple checkboxes could become ambiguous in a way that does not also disqualify the ballot. Cornell and CGSU, please explain why my vote may not have been counted!

Even less clear are the grounds on which the American Federation of Teachers  “questions the validity of the Cornell graduate union recognition election.” A cynic might think that the tactic of waiting until after there was no clear-cut result in favor of the union is as transparent as it is unsurprising. But the AFT claims to have a substantive objection, saying that code of conduct violations “compromised the ability of graduate students to make a free choice.” Responding directly to this showy claim would quickly get us lost in the weeds of philosophical thought on the nature of free choice. Suffice it to say that as to substance it is uninterpretable, and as to connotation it is slyly reactionary. It implies that any choice made with an awareness of the Graduate School’s policies and positions (e.g. via the controversial “Ask a Dean” forum) (a) will inevitably lead to anti-union votes, (b) that those votes will have been biased and (c) that therefore they will not have been “free.”

Implication (a) is demonstrably false: even if one concedes the allegation that the “Ask a Dean” forum was one-sided and implicitly anti-union (which, duh…), as many as 856 graduate students were not swayed in their positions. Indeed, the narrowness of the margin probably shows, if it shows anything, that graduate students are deeply divided on this issue, notwithstanding the intense and often vitriolic campaigning on both sides. As to (b), the question of undue bias, one can no more require the Graduate School to present the strongest pro-union arguments in their communications than one can expect the CGSU campaigners knocking at my door to proffer the strongest anti-union arguments. It’s up to the the individual voter to take in the best arguments (or not) on both sides (or not) and weigh them fairly and with respect to their own values (or not). As to (c), the question of “free choice,” unless the AFT comes forward with evidence of coercion or harassment on the part of the administration (and the specific allegations reported in the Sun fall very short of that mark), it is an empty accusation. Your opponents’ electoral choices — even if you believe them to be biased, uninformed, even regressive — are not ipso facto unfree. To suggest otherwise is fundamentally illiberal. AFT and CGSU, please explain why my vote, even if counted, may not have been “free!”


Matthew J. Hall, grad. 

  • Grad

    Matthew – read the election code of conduct and the NLRA. Might give you a better sense of the issues involved.

    • Dustin Unfeld

      Hey Matt,

      I agree with you that we’ve got free choice, not taking any issue w this argument. But your article misses the point.

      The problem is that Cornell mgmt violated the law & exhibited Trump admin like behavior. This is not acceptable and they need to be held accountable. The admins sent out a bogus claim of accusing the union of intimidating voters (during the election!!!), for which they still have yet to produce a single supporting piece of evidence.

      We expect as much from the Trump administration, but I still have higher expectations for Cornell. I hope you do too.

  • Michaela

    Hi Matthew,

    The contested ballots were eligibility-related (persons who voted who are not in the bargaining unit) or need to be verified (eg, no ID or went to unassigned polling place). This is normal for any election. They will be verified one way or the other–they aren’t uncounted.

    I was at the count and there were some ballots shown (they were held up to the audience) that had two boxes marked, or none at all. I realize it’s hard to believe that such a simple ballot could be wrongly marked, but it happened. Those ballots are void because they cannot be decided yes or no.

    Federal labor law forbids employer communications within a window of time before and during the election that could impact voters’ free choice. Cornell sent out both: an unsubstantiated accusation of voter intimidation against CGSU early in the voting process, and a communication that showcases a health care benefit for grads a little later.

    If you weren’t aware of these communications, then obviously they didn’t impact the freeness of your individual vote. But voting is an aggregated activity. We know that voters read these emails, and the first, despite its lack of credibility, is so inflammatory that it defies logic to think it did not have an impact on people’s views. Cornell’s brazen disregard for grads’ free choice is unmistakable, and sorely unfortunate.

    ~Michaela Brangan, Admin Liaison CGSU

    • Mark O

      You saw the letter Michaela. Why deny its existence? And why has no one from CGSU mentioned FEPA? The university can not legally release student data. Just because they haven’t publicized these accounts from students doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I’m sure the arbitrators have seen them, let the experts decide.

      • Dustin Unfeld

        Hey mark o, is anybody gonna examine your paystubs? some folks are saying you’re on the management payroll

        • Dustin Unfeld

          I mean you make all kinds of bullshit arguments over and over again, what other conclusion can we come to? Let’s just let the mgmt claim FERPA, send out a junk email slandering the union a couple hrs after the election starts, then claim FERPA prevents them from citing any evidence? Sure, that makes perfect sense

          But I agree, let’s let the arbitrators decide. for once the deans will have to listen to someone outside their fiefdom, they’re just so used to no oversight they’ve lost touch with reality

      • Michaela

        I have to assume reasonable people know the difference between something existing in the world and that thing having substance or credibility.

        It’s FERPA, not FEPA. Anyway, it is immaterial to Cornell’s conduct here, and it doesn’t supersede other laws. Only a labored (pun intended) reading of FERPA would give Cornell backdoor immunity under the NLRA or our agreement.

        Nice try.

      • I have a copy and know you’re full of crap

        oh hey marko good to hear from you – glad you mentioned the letter, too! care to make it public again or are you too worried about what actually looking into it will tell us about your mate’s claim?

  • Grad student who wants the election season to be over

    @Michaela Brangan

    1) Do you think graduates students are not capable of deciding for themselves and that 2 emails would change their stance?
    2) Is it not true that health car benefit were being negotiated long before even the creation of CGSU?
    3) What about the e-mails sent by CGSU earlier during the campaign (~8 months/year) ? I never subscribed to a CGSU mailing list but was sent emails by CGSU. While you guys wrote to the SUN about at what cost list, you should have looked at your own conduct.
    4) Was CGSU getting names of grad students who had not voted on the election day? If so, how and why ? I saw people from union coming into offices looking especially for students who had not voted.

    • Michaela

      @Grad with a totally relatable handle 🙂 I will assume your questions are well meant.

      1) This has nothing to do with how smart we are as a group or as individuals. Federal labor law assumes that adults are able to decide for themselves, based on all the information available. That’s precisely why broadcasting during the election, without reasonable proof, that the union is engaging in voter intimidation is a violation: it is “objectionable conduct” and so inflammatory as to potentially interfere with and affect the election outcome. See NLRB, “Election-Related Conduct”.

      2) It doesn’t matter when it was planned, it has to do with when it was communicated: during the election. See above.

      3) The issue the writers had was with Cornell underwriting unsolicited communications in apparent violation of its own IT policy, and not to do with the conduct of the group. CGSU violated no Cornell policy, or their own.

      4) Getting confirmations that CGSU members voted is normal for any GOTV process. No non-members were being asked whether they voted by CGSU.

      • Not a fan of AFT

        Health coverage throughout the globe is/was not central to the union debate. Personally I do agree that the timing was may be not the most appropriate but I don’t think that announcement changed the votes distribution too much. Barb knuth has repeatedly talked about the Platinum student health plan, if you are interested I can give you the citations. I am curious to see how the nlrb ruling will be, personally I think Cornell will get a slap on the wrist and nothing much will change.

        I am sure the union has numbers of how the votes changed between day 1 and day 2 of polling. Did more people vote yes or no during the 2nd day? This would give you evidence if the grad school communication was inflammatory? I don’t think the communication was inflammatory but I have my biases.

        I am someone who didn’t want the CGSU/AFT union to succeed. I really appreciate all the effort you and the other graduate student members put into the campaign and would want CGSU to continue their activism through the next few years before the next vote (if this vote fails and/or nlrb doesn’t overrule it). I am not a fan of the aft and/or their influence through this campaign. I hope next time around aft or whoever the CGSU’s partner is behaves better with both the cgsu and grad students.

        Finally, a lot more of my friends were fed up of AFT calling/texting and home visits, I personally know of a couple of students who wouldn’t have voted but came out to vote ‘NO’. Especially as they had received phone calls/texts on Monday and/or home visits through the weekend. These were not cgsu members. This was a side comment and don’t want you to defend/deny this.

        • John

          I agree the AFT excessive phone calls and office/home visits were way way too much, I hope this gets resolved and there is a next time for the union.

          I also hope the mgmt gets more than a slap on the wrist. Knuth should be fired, immediately