October 3, 2002

Union Solely Open to Grads

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Even though many undergraduates work for the University, they will not be allowed to participate in the upcoming vote to unionize. The Cornell Association Student Employees/United Auto Workers (CASE/UAW) will only allow graduate students working as research and teaching assistants (R.A.s and T.A.s) to vote on the unionization decision on Oct. 23 and 24.

The CASE/UAW originally filed a petition this May with the National Labor Relations Board to bargain for Cornell student employees, including undergraduate students.

However, during negotiations to allow a unionization vote, CASE/UAW conceded to the University’s push to drop undergraduates from the agreement, according to Ariana Vigil grad, spokesperson for the CASE/UAW.

“That was something the administration was adamant on,” she said.

Unionization will affect about 2,200 graduate students but including undergraduates would double that number, Vigil added.

She estimated that between 2,000 and 2,500 undergraduate employees would be eligible for unionization.

The University wished to exclude undergraduates from unionization for a variety of reasons, said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

“I think there was a real question of community interest,” he said.

Comparing undergraduate and graduate work hours, he said, “Generally, [undergraduates] are employed in those capacities [as R.A.s and T.A.s] for many fewer hours a week.”

The University may also have objected to undergraduate inclusion because of the difference in roles between graduate and undergraduate R.A.s and T.A.s, according to Prof. Ronald G. Ehrenberg, the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics. While graduate R.A.s and T.A.s have very close professional ties to a few professors, undergraduates tend to associate with many more faculty members.

“The grad student/faculty relationship is very different from the undergrad student/faculty relationship,” he said. “Graduate students need a procedure to protect them.”

Even if the University agreed to undergraduate unionization, the union itself may have had legal difficulties in including undergraduates, according to Prof. Richard Hurd, industrial and labor relations.

“In terms of labor law, I think it would have been difficult for them,” he added.

He said the National Labor Relations Board, which hears appeals from unions at private colleges and universities, is reluctant to approve graduate unionization and to an even lesser extent, undergraduate unionization.

The University originally prevented the CASE/UAW from organizing undergraduates for the next five years but the union negotiated the limit down to three years, according to Vigil. However, CASE/UAW has not ruled out the idea of eventually including undergraduates in the union.

“I think it’s possible,” Vigil said. “I think we have to look at what the feeling on campus is and what the feeling nationally is going to be in three years.”

Some undergraduates have expressed interest in unionization, said Christina Ingoglia ’03, events coordinator for Cornell Organization for Labor Action.

She believes a union could offer opportunities to both undergraduate and graduate students.

“I think every worker in America should have a union,” she said.

Currently, the only undergraduate unionization effort in progress is for resident assistants at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Since UMass. Amherst is a state university, labor unions apply to state-run labor boards, which tend to be less restrictive, according to Hurd.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher