September 9, 2002

President, Students Take Issue With Unionization

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On Oct. 23 and 24, 2,200 graduate students will choose whether to unionize or not. The University, the Cornell Association for Student Employees (CASE/UAW), and graduate students opposed to unionization have begun a debate to be decided at the ballot box.

Most recently, President Hunter R. Rawlings III outlined his opposition to unionization.

“Unionization will, in my view, inevitably introduce standardization and complicate the relationship between graduate students and their faculty mentors,” Rawlings said in a Sept. 4 statement.

Rawlings said that the current Graduate and Professional Student Assembly “has ably voiced the concerns of graduate students.” He also expressed concern over the ability to separate “all academic aspects of a graduate student’s life from the collective bargaining process.”

CASE/UAW organizer Ariana Vigil grad, however, disagreed with Rawlings’ position.

“This is conjecture versus evidence,” she said, adding that Rawlings “is raising a lot of what-ifs.”

“We don’t have an effective body to express our demands,” Vigil said, arguing that through collective bargaining with Cornell, CASE/UAW can better represent student employee concerns than the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

“I wasn’t surprised at the tone or what he was saying,” Vigil said, calling Rawlings’ tone “paternalistic.”

“We have to separate ourselves from this big happy family rhetoric,” she added.

Meanwhile, borrowing their title from a Brown University group of the same name, ‘At What Cost?’ is a coalition of graduate students opposed to unionization.

Their website was started two weeks ago by three engineering graduate students to inform the campus about their concerns.

“We are not opposed to unions in general,” said Allen MacKenzie grad. “We are opposed to unionization as it has been carried out at Cornell.”

“The UAW has treated other graduate students abysmally,” MacKenzie said.

The United Automobile Workers (UAW) is the largest representative of graduate students nationally and is seeking to represent Cornell’s graduate students.

For a period of time, the UAW assumed administration of the graduate student union at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, according to MacKenzie. That administration did not include elected graduate students.

“If you are associated with the UAW, then they can come in and take over your unit,” MacKenzie said. “That doesn’t seem democratic to me.”

Jordan Erenrich grad saw no need for a union.

“Forming a union is an action of last resort,” he said, “but it seems like most people here are happy.”

Vigil said that the problems at Amherst were not long term.

“They went through a tough period,” she said, “but everything there is back on track.”

CASE/UAW’s website includes information about the organization, frequently asked questions, contact information, and other resources.

A simple majority of those voting will determine whether collective bargaining to create a contract will begin.

The University may reconsider its position if the National Labor Relations Board substantially changes the current understanding of labor law, which permits unionization at private universities.

“Whatever your views on student unionization might be, please take the time to inform yourself further about this important issue in the coming weeks,” Rawlings stated in the press release.

The University has established two web pages to address unionization.

A forum to discuss unionization including two graduate students and four professors will be hosted by Edward J. Lawler, dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, on Sept. 18 from 4:30 to 6 p.m. in the Call Alumni Auditorium in Kennedy Hall.

Archived article by Peter Norlander