As faculty members in the Cornell University ILR School, we are deeply concerned about the conduct of the Cornell administration on March 26, the eve of the Cornell Graduate Students United election and on March 27, the first day of voting in the election. On both days, Cornell’s Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth sent emails to thousands of Cornell graduate students with messages that interfered with graduate employees’ ability to freely exercise their rights to choose whether to be represented by the CGSU. In raising our concerns about Dean Knuth’s conduct, we draw on our expertise and experience in the field of labor law, labor relations and labor rights. Under the National Labor Relations Act, it is unlawful for an employer to make statements that would have the tendency to “interfere with, restrain or coerce” employees in exercising their rights to choose whether to unionize. Unlawful coercive statements by employer representatives include explicit or implicit threats that the employer may cut back on jobs if employees vote for a union.
Members of the GPSA had mixed feelings about this proposition. Some believed that this was an issue regarding the right of students to have an equal opportunity to succeed academically with regard to their peers.
According to the resolution, relationships “between students and individuals who might reasonably be expected to write them a letter of recommendation” and “who can directly control grades, academic progress or professional development” would be banned, with room for review in regards to gray areas.
simple analysis (see table below) reveals that students in the some disciplines get more than twice the representation as compared to students in the Engineering, Physical Sciences and Life Sciences. Given that it is the Negotiation Committee that will sit at the table with Cornell to strike a bargaining agreement, I am very concerned about this discordance between the number of members in a constituent discipline and the representation they receive.
As we move toward our union recognition election next week we would like to tell you why we — 5 active members of CGSU — are proudly voting “yes.” The reason is simply this: CGSU creates a structure to uphold the values most central to our University’s mission for ourselves and future graduate workers. Fairness, respect and democracy. Fairness: Our Grad Union creates structures which will enable us to leverage our collective power to bargain for fair work and labor conditions protected by a legally binding contract. We’re not making unreasonable requests, we’re aiming to negotiate for basic labor protections and commonsense reforms which will enable us to do our jobs better. For instance, basic Cornell health insurance for a spouse and two children costs approximately $8000 annually — well out of reach given the majority of our salaries are less than $30,000 per year.
As the members of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Executive Committee and the Graduate and Professional Student-Elected Trustee, we have heard from several eligible voters who are no longer comfortable voting in the upcoming election for myriad reasons. We are writing this column in the hopes of convincing those individuals to consider participating.
The union election will be held on March 27, and is open to all graduate assistants currently employed by the University. Ballots will be counted by the American Arbitration Association, a neutral third party.
“The reality is that with over 5,000 students, some level of injury … is a reality,” Kahabka said. “But we are reinforcing that in general terms, Cornell is a very safe place. The rates of injury are low, and the types of injuries, when you look at the data, are most frequently very minor.”