“[The offered settlements] frankly didn’t have many of the features we would have liked to protect us from the University breaking our agreements like they did during the last campaign,” said Jaron Kent-Dobias grad, CGSU communications and outreach.
The following letter was sent to Cornell President Martha Pollack on September 6, 2017:
Dear President Pollack:
Labor Day provides an important moment to reflect on the rights of employees, including on the Cornell campus. As you know, in March 2017, Cornell graduate employees voted on whether to be represented by the Cornell Graduate Students United in collective bargaining with Cornell. The election results were close, with 856 votes for union representation, 919 votes against union representation and 81 ballots not yet counted due to questions about voter eligibility. At this point, therefore, the final outcome of that election remains uncertain. According to the Cornell Graduate School, it is expected that a final tally would maintain the majority “no” vote.
The response from Prof. William Jacobson, law, to a letter to the editor that criticizes David Collum, the Betty R. Miller Professor and Chair of the Chemistry Department, states at its outset that the letter to the editor “appears to be payback” for Prof. Collum’s anti-union views. Prof. Jacobson seems to have based this accusation solely on the fact that the writers are supporters of Cornell Graduate Students United. This union retaliation claim has since been picked up by right-wing media outlets with enthusiasm, and the graduate students are now subjects of online abuse. I write to point out two related issues. One, the claim of “payback” for Prof. Collum’s views on unions is unsubstantiated.
“There should be no place for this kind of outright animus against colleagues in higher education. The administration has failed the entire Cornell community, and Cornell itself,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten ’80.
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.
“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…would actually say in a university that…having real labor relations is an existential threat,” Weingarten said.