October 22, 2002

Voting on Grad Student Union Begins

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2,400 graduate students will take their employment issues to the polls tomorrow and Thursday in an election that could create only the second graduate student union in the country at a private university.

A simple majority of those voting will determine if the Cornell Association of Student Employees / United Auto Workers (CASE/UAW) becomes the sole bargaining agent for all terms and conditions of employment.

Administration officials encourage eligible graduate students to vote.

“Please vote is our first and foremost message,” said Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations. “Second, we think graduate students should be well-informed.”

The vote, taking place over the next two days on campus and tomorrow only at the Geneva Experiment Station, has created confusion for some.

“I just found out I’m not eligible to vote,” said Hubert Chao grad, who had been preparing to vote against unionization.

Chao did not meet the minimum 25 percent tuition remission requirement.

“I don’t get to vote,” Chao said, “but [CASE/UAW] can’t get at my salary either so I don’t really care.”

Even some eligible voters aren’t clear on the voting procedure.

“I saw a lot on campus telling me how to vote,” said Harvey Scott grad, “but I don’t know where the voting is going to happen.”

The National Labor Relations Board will monitor the elections and typically releases results in 24 hours, according to Dullea.

Results, however, could potentially be delayed over challenged ballots, according to Opperman.

If the union should lose, another vote cannot be held for a year.

If the union should win, it will collectively bargain with the University until both parties agree on a contract, which then goes before the union membership for a vote.

Union officers would be elected by the membership, which graduate students covered by the contract can choose to join. All graduate students in the bargaining unit would be required to pay dues.

The campaign, now almost over, was unique for the lack of a strong University opposition to unionization.

“[Cornell’s behavior] is a model for how graduate schools and employers in general should deal with the rights of their workers,” said Joan Moriarty grad, a CASE/UAW organizer.

Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources, said that the University was focused on getting out the vote and not telling grads which way they should vote.

The issues are different according to who is speaking.

CASE/UAW sees low stipends, poor health care coverage, and unfriendly grievance procedures as issues where a union would give grads a voice.

Opponents, however, complain about union dues, UAW politics, and view Cornell as generally a good employer.

The UAW began a national campaign to unionize elite private universities after they successfully won a bitterly fought New York University case recognizing grads as employees.

Grads at NYU signed a contract earlier this year that boosted minimum stipends and required that all grads pay dues of 1.5 percent to the union.

Dues at Cornell would not exceed 1.15 percent, according to Moriarty, unless members chose to vote for the increase.

Graduate students at public universities have been unionizing under state laws for over 30 years.

Brown and Columbia universities are appealing the NYU decision that permits grad unionization to the full National Labor Relations Board. If a decision in that case altering the NYU decision should come before a contract is signed, the University will re-evaluate its options.

Archived article by Peter Norlander