December 12, 2016

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Division and Solidarity in the Unionization Discussion

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To the Editor:

The socio-political climate recently has been emotionally taxing, taking a toll on our graduate student body. Locally, this has been exacerbated by the vitriolic nature of discussions on the union, with accusations flying on both sides. Some have charged CGSU with harassing tactics. Others are painting neutrality or alternate views about the union as self-interest and apathy towards the welfare of their peers across fields.

We are writing as the two graduate student representatives on the General Committee, the administrative, legislative and judicial board of the Graduate School. We both value this opportunity to have a voice in important decisions, including the graduate stipend, and we disagree on the institution of student governance that would serve us graduate students best — Aravind strongly believes in a collective voice but remains ambivalent about the benefits of a union; Anna joined CGSU before these issues arose and still believes in the merits of collective bargaining. We also represent disparate social viewpoints: American and international, humanities and STEM, left-wing and moderate, queer and straight, candid and tactful. Our friends and colleagues can attest that we agree on very few things apart from our joint dedication to our peers, the collective of Cornell graduate students. That we are each perceiving this divisiveness and emotional distress among our colleagues concerns us.

Our concern was validated by the Ask a Dean question from a student harassed by CGSU and the recent article about a broader pattern of harassment. We have been hearing about harassment for months, from students in multiple fields being ostracized, inordinately pressured, and — in Anna’s characterization of the most extreme cases — emotionally abused. We must be clear that what we have been hearing about does constitute harassment. Yet the response from a vocal part of CGSU, in personal discussions we’ve had raising the issue for the past few months and in comments on The Sun’s article, has been to throw doubt upon the quantity, validity and degree of these allegations.

Moreover, the treatment of certain individuals, especially Siddarth Chandrasekaran and Teja Pratap Bollu, upsets us. Both have devoted countless hours towards advocating for their fellow students’ interests, diving into the fray of committees, meetings, and student groups, challenging administrators and fellow students alike to critically evaluate their positions. We disagree with them on many points but have never doubted their sincere devotion to the Cornell graduate community, nor that of any individual participating in this important discussion.

Hence, we are making requests of CGSU. We ask them to believe their fellow graduate students, who would make up their constituents. When these issues arise, respond with support and openness rather than defensiveness: do not dismiss or trivialize students’ emotional well-being, perspectives or experiences. Address the disparity between the rhetoric of solidarity and the reality of unheard, harassed students. Externally, demonstrate that CGSU is listening to, responding to and solving these issues. Internally, create new mechanisms to receive input from graduate students who hold divergent viewpoints or are too fatigued by their work to participate. Prevent further harassment and repeated, unwanted visits to homes and workspaces — outreach is one visit, not four. We need to be particularly cognizant of each other’s well-being in this current climate.

Finally, be mindful that those of us involved in this discussion and active in student organizations on campus care deeply about our fellow students. This includes the At What Cost group (of which neither of us is a member). Deriding one another’s concerns and perspectives is detrimental to the very solidarity and community of our student body that CGSU aims to promote. Whether to unionize is a decision we must reach together.

Anna Fore Waymack grad

Aravind Natarajan grad

  • Grad Worker

    Great overall message. The discussion shouldn’t focus on the Union vs. Administration battle, nor should opposing student groups, such as At What Cost, be vilified by the union. The union plans to represent the same students they are currently denouncing. It seems that the union has created an adversarial atmosphere amongst various Cornell factions. Why create more turmoil? I personally don’t wish to be represented by this particular union. Graduate school is stressful enough.

  • Another grad worker

    Interesting. I assumed that the “Ask a Dean” letters were fakes that were part of the anti-union campaign the administration has been waging.

    Personally, I don’t mind being represented by this union.

  • Nobody

    This letter is filled with innuendo and suggestion without any concrete examples of harassment (does anyone using this word actually know what harassment is? Hint: someone speaking to you at home or your office is not harassment), ostracism, emotional abuse, bad treatment of certain people, etc. Then you call on CGSU to somehow respond to these vague suggestions of incidents, as if anyone reading this letter knows what you are talking about. I have never seen such concern trolling.

    • Lara

      At this point, I think it’s pretty clear from the slew of articles and associated comments that harassment by CGSU members is happening. It seems like people who have experienced this harassment (1) have reached out to CGSU and have seen no change and (2) feel uncomfortable openly speaking about their experience out of fear of retribution. In my opinion, someone repeatedly coming into your space (be it your work or private space) and forcing you into a conversation you do not wish to have constitutes harassment. Given your description of ‘true’ harassment, it is unsurprising that these students would feel uncomfortable identifying themselves or the specific members who have been harassing them. Instead, they have turned to other members of the community to share their stories, and, instead of listening to them, the response has been to ‘throw doubt upon the quantity, validity and degree of these allegations.’

      I agree with this article’s message. If CGSU wishes to represent graduate students, it mush show a willingness to listen to graduate students, even when their message is “Please leave me alone” or “I am uncomfortable with what you are doing”. Until them, I feel uncomfortable being represented by this union.

    • every 10 minutes I will check up on your job performance, okay because it is not harassment. it is job reinforcement.

  • Jack

    It’s unfortunate that otherwise smart folks like the authors of the article or some of the commentators can be so easily duped into thinking the admins are their pals, sad that such educated folks quickly turn into a bunch of ninnies.

    The fact is these two have spent so much time buried in the “General Committee” and sham self-governance system that they’ve apparently forgotten that the admins retain all the power to change grad benefits, working conditions, stipend levels/insurance coverage at any time. Sure just let the deans have the power, and put that committee on your CV!

    • Elena

      Honestly you sound like you’re a conspiracy theorist… what is a sham about the current shared governance that is in place?

      • Jack

        Elena, honestly you sound like an administrator!

        What sort of actual power to grads have in governing or negotiating the conditions of our own pay, labor conditions, insurance benefits, etc?? And don’t say it’s because these two sit on the “General Committee.” As we’ve seen again and again over the past several years Cornell can and does simply ignore the opinions and decisions of its “shared governance” institutions as it ignored the Faculty Senate’s opposition to this College of Business & the NYC tech campus, and you’d better believe they would (and have!) done the same thing to the GPSA over the years whenever grad students expressing their voices has conflicted with their own interest with regard to stipend rate changes, divestment, insurance benefits, etc

        The only thing they wouldn’t simply be able to ignore is a union. And not surprisingly, that’s why they’re so opposed to it!

        • Grad Student

          Lets keep the focus on the point that the article has raised, i.e, dont just give criticize everyone that has a different opinion (here I am talking about the union). The union is trying to represent all graduate “workers” and not a select individuals who support it. I think comments made here are contrary to the spirit of the article, especially critiquing that the authors just want to PAD their CV, that is uncalled for.

          • Jack

            Well Grad Student, seems to me you’re the one sidestepping the real issue here. The article defends shared governance and the “General Committee” as ‘an opportunity to have a voice in important decisions’–yes, a voice that could simple be ignored.

        • GPSA Member

          @Student governance: To quote your wise words ‘Or, if you’re going to critique it, or provide constructive suggestions for improving it please do.’ Have you participated in student governance prior to CGSU? What steps have you taken to represent students through existing mechanisms that you claim these options are ineffective? How many resolutions have you drafted, how many administrators have you approached with constructive ideas?

          Seems like you just woke up and now you want to tear everything down with the promise of a fabled governance through union. It is disappointing that you dismiss the GPSA and members who have spent time representing students.

          • Jack

            Hey GPSA, maybe you should read more closely: “Cornell can and does simply ignore the opinions and decisions of its “shared governance” institutions as it ignored the Faculty Senate’s opposition to this College of Business & the NYC tech campus, and you’d better believe they would (and have!) done the same thing to the GPSA over the years whenever grad students expressing their voices has conflicted with their own interest with regard to stipend rate changes, divestment, insurance benefits, etc”

            These aren’t hypothetical scenarios, or “conspiracy theories” but things that have actually happened. Best you stick to the facts. And in fact I have been quite involved in the GPSA. And I’ve seen that it’s influence is very limited. The admins are very good at making you think you’ve got you ‘voice heard’, but at the end of the day contractual negotiations are going to be the only way to make progress on issues where there hasn’t been much progress. For instance, I know so many student parents who still struggle with child care access and parental leave benefits. There have been some reforms (likely in response to the union) but student parents deserve better. Others who need wisdom teeth taken out and no dental plan that covers it at all.

            And the authors of the article don’t deserve a free pass for deflecting interest away from the workplace issues a union is capable of resolving. I won’t apologize for calling this article what it is: grad students doing the adminstrator’s work of fear-mongering against the union for them. Deflecting attention away from the major issues at stake.

            Of course, I would be opposed to “harassment” if that’s what was happening. But a few extra phone calls, conversations in the office? I think it’s irresponsible to use the word harassment for this, and disrespectful to people who actually experience race/gender/other forms of harassment.

            Could the union’s tactics be improved, sure. They should be. I don’t appreciate their annoying phone calls or home visits either. But I haven’t lost sight of what the issues are, as these two “representatives” clearly have. And folks don’t just get to be right virtue of participating in the GPSA or other existing committees.

        • Facts not rhetoric

          @Comment below regarding Health Insurance, Divestment etc:
          Dear Jack, I appreciate your efforts to focus on the issues rather than emotions. Is the CGSU willing to have a town hall-style discussion with At What Cost, the GPSA and administrators? This will enable all students to vote on facts rather than hypotheticals and vague allusions. I understand that At What Cost contacted CGSU about setting this up, but was turned down?

          • Andrea

            Yes, I agree that some kind of town hall event where we focus on the ISSUES would be helpful. Good lord, EMOTIONS taking over in this discussion! We’ve got an important choice so I hope we can focus back on the real issues.

            Also I find it concerning that the authors say their concerns are “validated” and link to ‘Ask a Dean a Question’ as the source. I mean Cornell has come out publicly against the union, and the question linked to doesn’t even document or even describe a specific incident.

            http://gradschool.cornell.edu/about/ask-dean/there-way-stop-unwanted-visits-union-representatives

            And isn’t it a little naive to be trusting sources directly from the deans anyway? Given their stated opposition to the union

          • MJB

            Andrea and Facts not rhetoric: CGSU has hosted a public information session already: http://cornellsun.com/2016/11/29/cgsu-fields-unionization-questions-at-first-public-meeting/

            It was set up to facilitate open discussion between audience members as well as panelists, with guest panelists (John Ware from U Michigan’s grad union, and Risa Lieberwitz from the ILR School) to address some points (like, what is it like to be in a recognized grad union? What are the legal implications?). Issues like transparency, dues, the bargaining unit, and political activity were discussed. There were around 30-40 people. It went for two hours. There were beer and snacks.

            At What Cost attended. As you see in the article, they grasped for criticisms: questions (unspecified) were “skirted,” the event was held at 8 on Monday. At the event, AWC suggested AFT leadership’s support for HRC disqualifies it from affiliation with Cornell grads, since according to a Sun survey most supported Sanders and that, despite disclosure laws for union spending and public access to that data online, AFT harbors some secret purpose for grads’ dues. These points were discussed.

            AWC is free to use its own resources to criticize CGSU. But I don’t think AWC should get to profit from CGSU’s notoriety by meeting on a platform where AWC can instantly make itself appear as one equal “side” of a “debate.” It seems strange to have a shared event between bodies so disparate. A self-selected group of five or so, which has existed for a matter of weeks and whose sole purpose is to bust the union and then disband is not at all similarly situated as is a democratically-run body that since 2014 has grown to hundreds through organizing, builds collective power, and is intended to last.

            In any case, it’s unclear to me why one body formed to destroy another would expect the body meant to be destroyed to cooperate fully with the destroyer’s agenda, for events or anything else.

            Anyway, CGSU invited AWC to participate in the setup of the November Q&A/discussion. They never responded. Instead, AWC started sending their emails, and has held at least one of its own meetups.

            CGSU plans to have another open Q&A/discussion early next semester. Keep your eyes peeled for it 🙂

    • Grad student

      This comment proves the sum and substance of the article. Berate alternate views, call fellow graduate students names and incite students through purporting a conspiracy theory – Sounds like a CGSU member.

      I have worked with authors of these articles and am disappointed by Jack’s disparaging remarks. Have you worked on matters of student governance prior CGSU?

  • Grad Student

    Jack, again you seem to be sidestepping the point of the article. If you believe that shared governance is not working then work on correcting it (write an article, explaining why that should be the case and how you believe the shared governance should succeed). But not on criticizing ‘graduate students’ who have taken the time and effort to make graduate student opinions heard. It is outright shameful in trying to disregard individual contributions.

    Just an FYI, the union claims it is going to work with shared governance structure that already exists, Jesse Goldberg talked about it in an article to the Sun. This behavior of yours is against working with all graduate students (including those who are ambivalent to the union and/or against the union).

  • Jack

    I think this is an interesting discussion but it seems to me like the same critique as “Grad Student” points out could be leveled at the authors of this article. If you want to make the union better then get involved and do so. Or, if you’re going to critique it, or provide constructive suggestions for improving it please do.

    But don’t go about it by focusing just on “harassment” and ignoring ALL of the real issues which a union is intended to solve. This plays into the admin’s strategy: deflecting attention from workplace issues and fear-mongering about this boggyman, faceless union. Dean Knuth is no doubt smiling with glee while she reads this article

    I still think the author’s appeal to authority by virtue of participation in the “General Commitee” is misguided and uncritical of how this place operates. Also, it’s really disheartening to see grad students doing the administrator’s work of fearmongering against the union for them. In reality, this isn’t in any way how CGSU operates. And it’s outright irresponsible of these people to ignore the real workplace issues that need to be solved

  • Michael

    Organizations are made up of imperfect people. Folks who are great burgeoning scholars in their field may not always be the most adept at political organizing, or soliciting folks to join the cause. This is an important decision for all of us. Personally I hope we as graduate students vote to form a union, but if you prefer to vote against unionizing that is your right.

    What I really disagree with though is this notion that there exists some hypothetical perfect union that we can vote on in a year or two if the union is voted down. IF WE VOTE AGAINST FORMING A UNION, THEN OUR RIGHT TO UNIONIZE WILL DISAPPEAR, just like it did last time. Since Trump has been elected president, by December of 2017 his appointments will constitute the majority of members of the NLRB, the group that determined that graduate students at private universities are workers and have a right to unionize. Then pretty soon thereafter they will overturn their decision and rescind our right to unionize, just like they did during the Bush administration. If we unionize before then we will be grandfathered in, but if we don’t you shouldn’t expect there to be another opportunity.

    • Grad Worker at Cornell

      Siddharth sends unsolicited emails from his own address to the entire grad community urging them to turn in their union cards–emails with exclamation points, bold font, and decontextualized numbers, disinformation and factoids meant to make people grab their wallets in alarm. It is not mistreatment to get pissed off at the sender and give him a piece of your mind. Many have complained, both out in the wider world and directly to his organization, about those emails in language ranging from “why are you doing this?” to “your emails are garbage” to “you’re a real jerk for sending these.”

      I don’t really see how Siddharth could send emails like that and not expect a flood of protest, some of which might be personally directed at him as the sender. He could stop, though–that’s always an option.

    • Nobody

      There are many points that you have hit on, I think it is important to have a near perfect union before we vote for it, so CGSU should rather than focus on making an the union perfect. Criticism directed at it should be used to inform its actions that rather than just “shoving” it under the radar. CGSU has so far not publicly apologized to individuals who have complained about solicitation. So, it appears that they are functioning as an organization that is perfect in all regards.

      Also, if an union is so vital for graduate student interests than we need to really think how this can be inclusive process not do a half hack job of it. So this means taking two years, than it means taking two years. Also to your point, if the NLRB reverses its decision than Cornell has every right to not recognize the union (similar to the case of NYU – http://www.makingabetternyu.org/gsocuaw/wp-content/uploads/GSOCUAW-TIMELINE-FOR-FACULTY-SENATE.pdf). I am not saying Cornell will chose to do this, but it appears likely considering that they are opposed to the union currently.

      • Grad Worker at Cornell

        I take issue with the idea that some complaints existing is the occasion for some kind of remorse campaign on the part of CGSU. No way. There are some real complaints, but there is also plenty of concern-trolling. Why should CGSU publicly apologize for organizing? People who supposedly feel harassed have formal recourse: there is a Union-Management Committee where complaints about organizing can be registered, discussed and solved (I think that’s its purpose–there’s a link on the Cornell’s union FAQ site).

        Apologizing to the whole campus for something that is legally protected activity utterly negates that protection. You only need the legal right to do something if it isn’t guaranteed by social norms already–for example, you only need free speech rights to say things someone, or a majority of someones, might not like. Finally, what makes you think CGSU’s ongoing actions aren’t being informed by criticism directed at it? That would be a mistake indeed. Why would CGSU not take seriously evidence that their strategy needs improvement to do better outreach?

        Nobody, it’s hard to tell where you’re coming from. If you wait until something is perfect before you decide to move it forward, you will be waiting long past two years–you’ll be waiting forever (especially if the law does shift out of favor of grads). Also, what’s perfection to one might look like prison to another.

        Accept imperfection, with the possibility and necessity for participatory, ongoing change, rather than lock something in as “perfect” and decide that’s how it’s going to be. The hubris of the latter scenario kills mass political life.

    • TA

      And if we vote for a Union in faith that the Union will turn constructive at some point in time – know that there is no realistic recourse to decertifying the Union. If you want to legally empower a group of individuals who have displayed no efforts towards ‘good faith’ negotiation and have harassed grad students – go ahead!

  • Grad Worker at Cornell

    Siddharth sends unsolicited emails from his own address to the entire grad community urging them to turn in their union cards–emails with exclamation points, bold font, and decontextualized numbers, disinformation and factoids meant to make people grab their wallets in alarm. It is not mistreatment to get pissed off at the sender and give him a piece of your mind. Many have complained, both out in the wider world and directly to his organization, about those emails in language ranging from “why are you doing this?” to “your emails are garbage” to “you’re a real jerk for sending these.”

    I don’t really see how Siddharth could send emails like that and not expect a flood of protest, some of which might be personally directed at him as the sender. He could stop, though–that’s always an option.

    • Grad

      And yet emails from CGSU ‘with exclamation points, bold font, and decontextualized numbers, disinformation and factoids meant to make people’ anxious and sign up for a union with undefined policies are legit?!

      Again receiving unsolicited emails from Siddharth is foul but being subject to constant harassment through visits by union workers at home and offices are okay?!

      Hypocrisy like none other.

      • Grad Worker at Cornell

        The union had to go through subpoena processes for contact information that had an additional opt-out process, which was highlighted by both admin and At What Cost in their debut email, “reminding” people that they can opt out. There were two giant anti-union flags waving over the possibility that the union could get hold of what is by and large public information to contact you about your right to have union representation. And if you no longer want to be visited by union folk, just say so and chill.

        It should be noted that under federal law, contact information for private sector employees is supposed to be supplied by the employer to unions. That there was a subpoena process that freaked people out: there was extra red tape because the university refused, and continues to refuse, to recognize grad teaching and research assistants as workers until they absolutely had/have to.

        So, yeah, that’s about as legit as you can get. Hard-won, and based on the right to association in the First Amendment. For reference, see: US History.

        And what “decontextualized numbers, disinformation and factoids” can you point to in emails from the union, Grad? I can start with the $800-ish dues figure that keeps being sent around by AWC. Where is that even from? Dues are decided on democratically by the union once there is a contract! That means it’s in the future! Do you tell the future?

        • Grad student

          Hold on, so are we saying it is OK to harass/solicit just because you have the information obtained from a subpoena. Now, the first amendment doesn’t give you that right.

          The red-tape that the union had to go through to get the student information is required by law.

          • CS PhD

            You’re missing the point. The red tape that the union had to go through in order to get student contact information may or may not have been appropriate or required, but the point is that the anti-union organizers (such as Siddharth) were able to easily send out unsolicited e-mails to grad students without going through any red tape at all. There was no subpoena process, and no option for students to opt out, when the anti-union people collected the same contact information the union organizers wanted. This means the university is giving the anti-union group a privileged position by making it easier for them to harass grad students with unsolicited emails (using misinformation to try to scare them out of joining the union), while pretending like it cares about grad students’ right not to be harassed when union representatives try to contact them.

        • Frustrated

          And yet, when I opted out- I was still contacted by the union via telephone calls. I had never provided any of my number to any CGSU members who visited my office and had told them that I would not like to be visited again. It’s a bit difficult for me to chill when my preferences are being ignored in lieu of others who feel they know better than me.

          So no, I don’t find this as “legit as I could get”, and then get insulted that my feelings are too sensitive and that my perception of these situations are not true. That’s called “gaslighting”.

          If Cornell was able to give personal identifiers to anyone who asks, then there would be a major issue with our right to privacy. We can’t even do that for research recruitment. You ask about disinformation being disseminated? I can highlight misleading statements as an example. Your statements on “the federal law” and “anti-union flags” – it misleads people to believe that the University refused release private information just because they wanted to make it harder for a union to form. That’s not completely the case and feel free to research on why that is.

          Also, can you foresee the future and tell me that this particular union would improve at least half of the issues that have been identified by the same CGSU leaders? Could you guarantee this 100%? If not, then stop being condescending to our fellow commentator “Grad”.

          And I’m tired of the “if we don’t try, we’ll never know” argument. I refuse to vote for something out of fear (either of potential harmful administrative changes or of missing out on benefits). Consistent with our political climate, this is exactly the line of argument that CGSU is encouraging. Show me evidence that there is a high prevalence of Cornell grad students who had poor experiences in 2 or more areas (since nothing is perfect), and I might be willing to consider the CGSU’s position.

          • Nobody

            You ask: “If Cornell was able to give personal identifiers to anyone who asks, then there would be a major issue with our right to privacy”?

            Indeed there would! That’s why there are legal protections in place for such activities. And that’s why it’s so troubling that Cornell released everyone’s private information to At What Cost, which is basically a student club and not a legally protected entity, without any sort of legal process or disclosure to graduate students that they were doing so.

          • Grad Worker at Cornell

            Why 2 or more areas? That seems perfectly arbitrary to me. But, I can say that my health coverage is lacking (our dental and vision is not subsidized, or adequate in any case) and I don’t have a fair, efficient grievance process with representation. That goes for everyone. There’s your two.

            A union is not something that you buy and wax on “100% guaranteed”–it’s a collective effort to make a democratic institution with legal power. A good union is participatory to the extreme. I believe that it scares people to think that what our union, and our contract, ends up looking like will, in fact, be up to them–that they will have to take an active part in shaping the future–and they cover up this insecurity by scoffing at the issues: “well, that’s not MY problem so…show me evidence that people have issues.” The issues that have been brought up are not invented out of thin air by “CGSU leaders”–they are real issues that many grads have, and have been coming up in hundreds of conversations! Are you scoffing at that? That is the epitome of condescension.

            I would never vote for something that I didn’t think was going to improve my life, or that would make it worse. Saying yes gives us the opportunity to guide the future with our own hands, instead of crossing our fingers and hoping that someone might listen to us, one day. Why do you think Cornell doesn’t want grads to form their union? Because Cornell doesn’t want to share power–especially the power to tell us that a problem isn’t really a problem, it’s just the way things are, but why don’t you talk it out with Barb? Her door is always open.

            One person’s problem might not be your exact problem, but maybe someone’s idea about how to improve things for grads could strike you as worth fighting for–and maybe when the bargaining survey and the discussions over negotiations come round, you will decide to mark your preference, speak your mind, and participate.

  • Unimpressed

    Wow. Those of you who are yelling “This isn’t harassment!” appear to have no idea of what harassment is. You do not get to decide what harassment is. Either you go with the legal definition — “intentionally and repeatedly harassing another person by following them in a public place,” which is circular but definitely includes what some CGSU folks have been doing — or you have to accept that when someone says “Leave me alone” and you don’t, you’re harassing them. That has 100% definitely been happening. Repeatedly. And for all we know, that’s only scratching the surface of what’s actually happened — it’s just what people have felt comfortable talking about. Ostracization, emotional abuse . . . that’s not a few phone calls or lab visits.

    Which raises the question, why do you feel entitled to the names and details in these harassment events? If people are claiming they’ve been harassed and bullied for their insufficient zeal for the union, what do you expect will happen if they identify themselves? Probably not sunshine, bunnies, and apologies — especially as I have never seen CGSU apologize for overstepping its bounds. Exactly as Frustrated says, when you bully and harass people, then dismiss their claims that you’re harassing them, that’s gaslighting.

    Plus, aren’t you all supposed to be professional thinkers? I thought grad school taught you how to evaluate an argument. A bunch of people are missing the points of this article — CGSU has moved past advocacy to bullying and harassment, and it can’t or won’t listen when people tell it to back off, and this is a really bad sign for a group that’s supposed to negotiate on behalf of these people it’s bothering and scaring — and responding to all sorts of strawman claims the article doesn’t make at all. It doesn’t say a union is a bad idea. It doesn’t say the General Committee or the GPSA can solve all grad student problems. But that’s what people are responding to instead of the actual points in the article. And that’s the comments that even bother responding to points at all instead of jumping straight to ad hominem attacks. “Put that committee on their CVs” — have you seen the tenure-track job market? Do you think anyone’s going to give a rat’s hindquarters about General Committee roles? This is surprisingly bad engagement with an argument.

    • Nobody

      It’s funny that you say that those of us stating that “this isn’t harassment” don’t know what harassment is. For you left out the text of NY Penal Section 240.25 that *qualifies* the actions (such as “following”) which are constitutive of harassment:”which places such person in reasonable fear of physical injury”. Furthermore, these actions must be *intentional* — meaning they must be done to provoke fear of injury. I find it unlikely that any of CGSU’s actions could cause one to reasonably fear physical injury, let alone intentionally do so.

      If you want to say that CGSU annoys some people, then fine. I’m sure they do. But harassment has a very technical legal definition in New York State.

      • Unimpressed

        Yeah, OK. 2 things:

        1: You’re looking at first-degree harassment. Second-degree harassment includes following a person about in a public place, as well as engaging in conduct that seriously annoys or alarms them without a legitimate purpose. Sounds like some of these folks have been alarmed, and a bunch have clearly been seriously annoyed — and all because they’ve been followed around in public places.

        2: If you’re attempting to defend CGSU’s actions by saying that, technically, what they’re doing to the fellow grad students they claim to represent isn’t *quite* criminal, then go for it. But I don’t know that it’s much of a defense.

        • Nobody

          1. Again, intent is required for an action to constitute harassment in the second degree. Also, union organizing is a legitimate purpose. So, again, I have yet to read about any CGSU actions that actually constitute harassment in any sense, according to the NY Penal Code. But, by all means, continue this productive line of argument.

          2. Words have meanings. Meanings are not determined by single instances of speaker intention. If I say, “HE MURDERED MY HUSBAND!”, but by “murdered”, I mean “spoke harshly to”, then even if I am unaware of the actual meaning of “murder”, I am misleading anyone around to hear my statement. There might be bad consequences following my uttering that statement. The person who spoke harshly to my husband might be arrested, or killed, or people might form a false view of that person. What people who are saying “CGSU harassed me!” mean is “CGSU annoyed me!” However, by using the term “harass”, they invoke images much different than “annoy”. Those of us who have actually experienced harassment in the past and had to have police intervention to stop it will form a much different picture in our minds about CGSU’s actions than the events that actually occurred. Thus people using “harassment” language about CGSU’s actions are misleading people. Furthermore, while “harassment” will, in most cases, seem per se wrong, it is not clear that someone doing something to annoy someone else is per se wrong. For example, continually asking someone for a donation or reminding someone to go vote might annoy them, but it doesn’t seem wrong to me. I would say that union organization is similar. Thus using the appropriate language in relation to this issue seems to have actual consequences for whether one forms the judgment that CGSU’s actions are right, wrong, justifiable, illegal, etc.

        • MJB

          Hi unimpressed, please excuse the lengthy reply.

          I am active with the unionization movement and also deal with administration on these issues as an elected liaison. There haven’t been harassment citations to speak of sent through the committee that has been set up to deal with these issues, despite At What Cost aggressively urging people to file complaints through the little form they have set up. Perhaps ironically, complaints about those emails have been numerous.

          Some people have asked that union representatives cease contacting them. When a person asks the union to leave them alone, great care is taken to make sure they do not feel bothered as much as possible. The union is not out to create anti-union sentiment by annoying people. I’m sure you can see why that’s the case, given that the point of all this activity is to get enough support to win an election.

          Individual behaviors among members of the bargaining unit, such as a pro-union colleague arguing with their anti-union peer, is not in the strict control of the union, I’m sure you realize. In any case, the First Amendment and the NLRA, as well as the agreement the union made with the university, protects the right, both of people in the bargaining unit and organizers hired to support the effort, to talk to people about unionization.

          Obviously, this freedom does not cover being threatened or molested, and I would be extremely upset to find out anyone felt in danger, but you are wrong to invoke harassment law here and suggest that there is anything *quite* criminal whatsoever about talking to someone about the union if they’d rather not at the moment, i.e., annoying them. If you subjectively think unionization is an illegitimate purpose, that’s your right to opinion, but federal law says otherwise.

          It’s also worth mentioning that harassment laws and policies are generally intended to help those who would feel threatened on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, and certain other identity-based categories currently recognized under equal protection laws. These categories exist to ensure that silencing people on the basis of annoyance does not happen contrary to First Amendment guarantees unless and until there is strong reason to believe that the speech is in fact threatening to the safety and security of the person and/or discriminatory.

          I have been argued with by anti-union folks in ways that impinge on my level of personal comfort and annoyed me. I’ve been told that I am naive, possibly stupid, and even that I am a liar and untrustworthy. I would never dream of suggesting that it is criminal harassment–even if it is way out of line.

          I expect that people will disagree on this issue and say things that aren’t exactly polite out of passion to people who’d rather not hear it. But to toss around accusations of criminality is pretty slanderous. Again, perhaps ironically, such an accusation made against someone in public would be against the law. It’s called defamation.

          • Lost my vote recently

            I have asked key union members that they and CGSU leave me alone and cease proselytizing and arguing about it with me. These individuals continue to call and email. This is emblematic of CGSU’s behavior so far. Even shadier, I’m told some of them are getting paid by the union for this aggressive and harassing behavior. Other friends’ experiences -do- count as criminal harassment of the sort that makes them feel in danger. Looks like it’s time for you to start being extremely upset. How did we get to where you’re harming other students more than the admins are?

            But I guess unless I supply names, dates, documented proof and a lawyer I’m being slanderous and defamatory, and CGSU doesn’t have to change anything or listen to this. Way to reinforce that if people -do- come forward, you’ll put them on trial. For Pete’s sake.