The Cornell Organization for Labor Action (COLA) hosted a panel discussion last night in Goldwin Smith Hall’s Kaufmann Auditorium, titled “Behind the scenes: Cornell workers tell their stories.” During the discussion, employees openly discussed their feelings about the working conditions at Cornell University.
“Tonight this panel represents part of an educational campaign to teach others about issues important to workers,” Liz Chimienti ’02, president of COLA, said at the start of the discussion. “We want to help see that Cornell does not benefit from the exploitation of others.”
The panel consisted of seven Cornell workers, including union members as well as members of Cornell’s Employee Assembly.
Chimienti led the discussion, asking the panel members first to describe a typical day’s work, and then to talk about their expectations before starting work at Cornell. She also asked the members about their wages, the costs of living in or around Ithaca, and diversity among Cornell’s employees.
In response panel members shared experiences of struggling to support their families, having little time to spend with their children, getting hurt on the job and being treated by the University in what they deemed an inappropriate manner, as well as trouble trying to change jobs within Cornell.
“I’ve seen a lot of injustices done,” remarked Brian Goodell, zone representative for the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, Local 2300 (UAW 2300), member of the Employment Assembly at Cornell and present TCAT bus operator. “Each day another person is getting stomped on.”
“The [panel discussion] went well and hopefully students have learned more about social injustice in Ithaca,” Chimienti said after discussion drew to a close.
The workers also shared positive stories of their time at Cornell. One female worker discussed how rewarding it was to work alongside students at the University, while another praised Ithaca for having what she felt was a higher level of “union consciousness” than other locations in New York state.
The UAW 2300 includes 1,100 members from Cornell University and was organized around 1980. Harry Evans, president of the UAW 2300 and also a panel member in the discussion, indicated that Cornell has co-operated with union members in the past and that members do not view the University as a vicious institution.
“We have come a long way in the past twenty years. And while we still have a long ways to go, we have had a lot of success,” Evans said. “We just want Cornell to continue to recognize how hard [University employees] work.”
Archived article by Lindsay Lippman