Tina He / Sun Staff Photorapher

Labor leaders discuss the process of organizing unions and organizing at the ILR School’s annual Union Days.

March 16, 2016

School of Industrial and Labor Relations Hosts Annual Union Days Conference

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The School of Industrial and Labor Relations kicked off its annual three-day Union Days this Wednesday, bringing together various union leaders to talk about this years topic, “Workers Without Borders.”

The event included a guest panel including Ben Norton, grad, of the Cornell Graduate Student Union, Alex Ivovic representing the University of Toronto Graduate Student Union, Scott Marsland of Cayuga Medical Center nurses and Patrick Quinn, Patricia Greenberg and Ruth Heller of Service Employees International Union Healthcare 1199 NE.

Norton’s talk focused on his experience organizing students while in England and the difficulties international students face here at Cornell.

“In England, I got involved with helping to organize people on campus to go and help protest against the British government as they increased university fees,” he said. “The experience has been very different in America. When I was in England, I was trying to get people to volunteer to get heckled by heavy-handed police.”

The labor issues in the U.S. are different than those in England, according to Norton.

“I am very aware that cultures are different,” he said. “Having spoken to a number of international students, the differences in culture maybe lead them to not getting the [Teaching Assistant] assignment that they hoped for, or they don’t necessarily know how to have the conversation with their advisors and people in positions of power within the department to get them a good T.A. position for that semester.”

Marsland discussed his own experience as a nurse as well as a member of a union.

“We just couldn’t have imagined that so many of the nurses would be easily intimidated, so afraid [of organizing],” said Marsland. “Organizing is not a spectator sport.”

During a question and answer session, Marsland said Cornell needs to lead the organizing effort for workers.

“The reason that we have police officers in this county that have been without contract for four years, the reason that we have teachers in this city that have among the lowest wages of almost any school district in the entire country, is because Cornell is setting the bar in this county,” he said. “And so raising the bar for Cornell graduate students would have an impact that reaches out into the county.”

The event will continue through Thursday and Friday.