Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

March 8, 2017

CGSU Rally Marks ‘Momentous Day’ in Fight Towards Unionization

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Nearly 100 people gathered before the steps of Bailey Hall, decked in red and white bandanas, CGSU buttons and flowers, all ready to march towards Day Hall to deliver Cornell Graduate Student United’s petition of more than 1,200 signatures to the University.

Clad in red to show solidarity with CGSU, Cornell graduate students, undergraduates and even members of Ithaca College congregated for the march —  a showing that “sends a powerful message to Cornell’s administration,” said Maggie Gustafson grad in a speech at the rally to the cheers of her audience.

This message, according to Radu Parvulescu grad and CGSU member, is “to make it clear that we’re not quiet. We’re happy to take to the streets and we’re happy to let the whole campus know that we are here. This won’t be a back-room, shady corner kind of affair,” he said.

This rally comes following CGSU’s announcement that it has notified the University of its intent to file a petition, bringing CGSU one step closer toward an election for unionization of graduate students.

For Gustafson, the message of the rally extended not only to the administration but also to “grad workers who feel isolated in their workplace,” to let them know “you are not alone, we are here for you,” she said.

“I’m so heartbroken by all the stories of the struggles my fellow grads faced,” Gustafson said. “Today is a momentous day. Today we start to do something to alleviate these struggles.”

With bandanas flapping in the wind, they tore through the Arts Quad shouting proudly and demanding union solidarity on their way to Day Hall. Once they arrived, they stretched their 50 foot banner displaying 1,200 signatures across the entrance.

Beyond the celebration of the progress towards unionization, graduate students like Josh Savala, a CGSU member, were excited to see the unity that the event brought. This sense of unity did not always endure during the polarity that unionization brought, but Wednesday’s rally was a moment of unified support.

Savala said he was excited to see so many students “working across STEM and humanities [and] working across those divides that artificially are there to divide us, but we’re now actually doing this together.”

Undergraduate students marched alongside their fellow graduate students in a show that “us undergraduates should, can and always will support our grad student workers because after all, you’ve always been the ones to support us,” Xavier Eddy ’19 said.

Instead of delivering the petition to Barbara Knuth, dean of the graduate school, CGSU members, according to Michaela Brangan grad and CGSU administrative liaison, intentionally chose to make the trek to Day Hall to deliver the petition to Mary Opperman, vice president for human resources, and safety services.

“The meaning of [the delivery] being between Cornell HR and us is also a recognition that we’re workers,” Brangan said. “If we’re just delivering this to Barb Knuth, who is the dean of the graduate school, it would be just within the graduate student realm, but doing it here, it has a lot of impact.”

Additionally among the crowds to stand with the Cornell graduate student unionization effort were Ithaca College faculty and students. Along with their commitment to labor activism, I.C. faculty and students march amidst the ongoing negotiations between Ithaca College faculty and the administration.

One such faculty member, Tom Schneller ’08 spoke before the crowd, drawing parallels between the graduate student unionization and the struggles faced by I.C. contingent faculty, offering advice for moving forward.

“This is not an isolated phenomenon. We are all pushing against the same forces that are trying to keep us down,” he said. “In today’s academic environments, administrators are in it for themselves. They are a class that has its own interests and these interests generally do not overlap with those of students and teachers and that is something to watch out for as you go ahead. Stick to it, don’t give up, don’t let the administration keep you down.”

While the unionization effort has been an ongoing movement since 2014, many CGSU members expressed their gratitude to see this day marked with extraordinary progress.

“Coming here to deliver this position to the labor and employment office, this has been years in the making,” said Paul Berry grad. “Myself and literally hundreds of other graduate workers since 2014 have put in countless hours of unpaid labor to get us here today to deliver the petition to make a big step forward.”

“Looking back and seeing how many people came out here today, thinking about all of the work that everyone’s’ out in over the years, it’s definitely very fulfilling and inspiring to see,” Berry added.

Rachel Whalen ’19 contributed reporting to this article.