Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Cornell Graduate Students United organized in support of labor rights for graduate student Martha Jean-Charles at Caldwell Hall on 21 September 2016. Most recently, CGSU and COLA issued a statement in support of the contingent faculty union and potential strike.

February 23, 2017

Cornell Graduate Students United and Cornell Organization for Labor Action Stand By Ithaca College in Contingent Faculty Strike

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Cornell Graduate Students United and Cornell Organization for Labor Action advocated in support of the contingent faculty union and potential strike at Ithaca College by publishing a statement in The Ithacan on Monday.

“We, the members of Cornell Graduate Student Union and Cornell Organization for Labor Action, stand in solidarity with the Ithaca College Contingent Faculty,” the statement read. “We, as current and future workers from Cornell University, remind the Ithaca College Administration that the fundamental role of the university is to critically challenge the status quo, which reserves justice, equality and dignity for a small minority.”

An open letter published on Feb. 9 from The Ithaca College Contingent Faculty Union Bargaining Committee said that Ithaca College represents “a ‘precariat’ of demoralized and underpaid contingent professors.”

As a response to this burgeoning stress, IC faculty voted to create a union in 2015 to “fight collectively for better pay and job security,” according to the letter.

The Ithaca College administration has responded to this call and engaged in bargaining talks with two contingent faculty unions — involving both part-time and full-time faculty.

The administration has received numerous proposals advocating for equal pay and job security, though no ultimate compromises have been reached.

The contingent faculty union held a deciding vote on Feb. 13 and 14, with 88 percent voting in favor of authorizing a strike. Now, nearly eighteen months since unionizing in 2015, bargaining committees for IC and the contingent faculty union will have one more meeting with a federal mediator to settle on a proposal with the pressure of a strike hanging in the balance.

The Ithaca College administration released a statement reacting to the vote to authorize a strike saying that the bargaining team is “disappointed.” Ithaca College plans to hire people to fill faculty positions in the event of the strike, though many departments and students at the college have voiced solidarity with the contingent faculty union.

CGSU and COLA released a joint statement saying they would “stand in solidarity with the Ithaca College Contingent Faculty and unconditionally support all future labor actions undertaken by them.”

COLA member Caro Achar ’18 said that their organization “has made clear to the organizers of the Ithaca College full-time and part-time faculty that we will provide assistance to them in whatever way we can.”

“The national labor movement is so much about solidarity and community advocacy,” Achar said. “We felt it is our responsibility as both advocates for workers’ rights and students to support the contingent faculty at Ithaca College.”

Achar also acknowledged the reality that “the contingent faculty at Ithaca College, who compose almost half of the total faculty at IC, face conditions of precarious, insecure and underpaid working and living conditions.”

Vera Khovanskaya grad, a member of CGSU, also spoke of the need for solidarity.

“As a member of CGSU, I am happy to participate in actions like this and I was very impressed with the turnout from CGSU, Cornell Coalition for Labor Action, and the IC Students for Labor Actions,” Khovanskaya said.

Khovanskaya added that the “increased labor action happening across university campuses” is important for “engagement in the struggle of contingent faculty has sharpened awareness about the need for labor protection and solidarity with academic workers.”

Sarah Grunberg, an instructor in the department of sociology at IC, told The Sun that the progress made from negotiation and arbitration was inefficient, thus elevated action could encourage greater change.

“While some work can be done at the table, we know that the real change has occurred through the incredible work that has been done on the ground by campuses nationwide, including organizing, student protests and strike actions,” she said.

Prof. Keith Hannon, media studies, Ithaca College, wrote a recent op-ed published in Ithaca Voice that placed the situation in a national context.

“If we are to maintain our status as a progressive community that places humanity above profitability, we have to treat our local educators with the respect and admiration they deserve,” he wrote. “As we brace ourselves for the Betsy Devos era, Tompkins County has an opportunity to prove how much we value education by standing up in support of Ithaca College’s adjunct professors.”