Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

March 21, 2017

CGSU Liaisons Face Graduate Student Questioning

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Correction appended

With the unionization election just one week away, members of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly heard presentations addressing concerns about the Cornell Graduate Students United and clarifying voting procedures.

CGSU liaisons Tyler McCann grad, and Paul Berry grad, presented on behalf of CGSU and later fielded questions from graduate students and assemblymembers about the ultimate aims of the formation of a union at Cornell.

“Together with GPSA, we’re aiming to increase the collective power of grad and professional students and expanding advocacy for our students,” McCann said, describing the end goal of the unionization effort.

Berry added that the union seeks to focus on ameliorating five major areas — childcare, healthcare, worker’s compensation, intellectual property and gender equality in the workplace — in their contract negotiations.

“What we’re negotiating is a minimum only,” Berry said. “There are some clauses that may apply to some individuals and not others, [but] the idea is establishing minimums [that satisfy] as many people as possible.”

If more than 50 percent of the bargaining unit that turns out votes in support of the formation of a union, CGSU may then work to negotiate a contract with the University, according to the agreement between CGSU and Cornell.

McCann issued a formal apology regarding the “dismissive” manner with which some CGSU members have treated graduate and professional students in their organizing efforts. CGSU has been criticized in the past for creating a polar atmosphere among graduate students in the unionization drive.

“I want to apologize personally and on behalf of the organization for anyone that feels dismissed,” he said. “I know that personalities and feelings flare up, especially during organizing campaigns for [an] organization to … create itself.”

McCann said that he believes this behavior will subside as the organization gains a stronger footing, pointing to their guiding principles of “fairness, respect and democracy.”

“That [behavior] will go away, because it is my understanding that our tagline is true to ourselves, and I am confident that it is,” McCann said. “We are all grad students, so we have a commitment not to [upset] each other.”

The union election will be held on March 27, and is open to all graduate assistants currently employed by the University. Ballots will be counted by the American Arbitration Association, a neutral third party.

Jason Kahabka, associate dean in the graduate school, additionally presented at the meeting to clarify voting procedures and logistics for the election next week.

“You need to have either a government-issued ID or a Cornell-issued ID card [to vote],” Kahabka said. “The poll workers will be provided with the students’ official registered name, and also the preferred name as it’s in the systems.”

Student eligible to vote in the election are the students within the bargain unit — those who hold an assistantship: teaching assistants, research assistants, graduate research assistants and graduate assistants.

Voting will also be in-person at specified polling sites, assigned to students depending on their field, according to Nathaniel Rogers, president of GPSA.

While absentee ballots are available, the conditions are limited. Students must either be “registered with Cornell for the current term as in absentia” or “registered and attending a conference or will be away from the Ithaca or Geneva campuses for work obligations related to your position as a teaching assistant or research assistant,” said Jesse Goldberg grad, in an email to GPSA members.

Because “the results of this election will be binding on all eligible graduate student assistants,” Kahabka said, he emphasized the importance of participation in the election.

“At this point, the real energy is around turning up to vote,” Kahabka said. “We want students to all feel that they can vote and make an informed decision that is in their own best interest.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that if more than 50 percent of the bargaining unit votes in favor of forming a union, CGSU will begin to negotiate a contract with the University to form a union. In fact, if more than 50 percent of the bargaining unit that turns out votes in favor, CGSU will begin to form a union.