March 23, 2017

Letter to the Editor: Vote ‘yes’ for fairness, respect and democracy

Print More

To the Editor:

As we move toward our union recognition election next week we would like to tell you why we — 5 active members of CGSU — are proudly voting “yes.”  The reason is simply this: CGSU creates a structure to uphold the values most central to our University’s mission for ourselves and future graduate workers. Fairness, respect and democracy.

Fairness: Our Grad Union creates structures which will enable us to leverage our collective power to bargain for fair work and labor conditions protected by a legally binding contract. We’re not making unreasonable requests, we’re aiming to negotiate for basic labor protections and commonsense reforms which will enable us to do our jobs better. For instance, basic Cornell health insurance for a spouse and two children costs approximately $8000 annually — well out of reach given the majority of our salaries are less than $30,000 per year. Our dental plan is advertised with pictures of smiling grads with perfect teeth — and yet for the $278 annual premium, the maximum annual benefit is capped at total cost of $750 meaning that the actual cost of major dental procedures such as root canals or wisdom tooth extraction (ranging in the thousands of dollars) is completely outside the scope of coverage. This situation persists in spite of years of GPSA advocacy for better dental coverage.  All other Cornell employees have access to much better. New York Workers Compensation coverage only applies under a narrow range of circumstances and covers only the state-mandated minimum level of benefits. Medical Leave benefits, provided to all other workers at Cornell, remain unavailable to graduate workers. CGSU can use our collective leverage to create a fair system of work and employment conditions in order fix these problems. We can’t promise everything all at once, but we can promise this: voting “yes” creates a structure that will enable us to work toward addressing the major issues that have not been resolved through our current systems of governance.

Respect: In addition to allowing us to negotiate the conditions of our employment, our union also enables us to create a community organization that respects the work we do. CGSU strives to create an inclusive union which brings marginalized groups to the forefront. Our success as a union is bound up in our support for one another — which is why a union contract is our goal. A contract presents a way to bring the needs of all graduate employees into the discussion, so that we can address them in unified negotiations with management and have them codified in practice. Regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin or immigration status, your voice will be heard. In addition, our union can bargain for an effective grievance procedure that respects graduate work. Currently, in spite of recent reforms, the grievance policy still allows the Provost to retain final authority on any grievance. A legally recognized union will be able to bargain for a contract that includes a grievance procedure that is binding and independent from Cornell administration. We’re grateful for the respect and public endorsements we’ve received recently from ILR Faculty and the Mayor of Ithaca, though disappointed by the administration’s continued attempts to fight against our rights as workers. A vote “yes” for our grad union is a vote for respect of our academic labor and respect for all graduate workers in today’s uncertain political environment.

Democracy: We’re voting “yes” because we’re building a system of governance where all of us have the power to shape the conditions of our work and employment. In our political system, we’re reminded every day of the dangers posed by abuses of executive power. CGSU is a truly member-driven organization. We’ve embodied this core value in every step of creating our Grad Union to date: from creating our constitution, our democratic vote to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers as opposed to other national unions, and now in our union recognition election. We will continue to embody this value as we move forward with creating our negotiating committee to bargain with the University for fair wages and benefits (see more on our web site). We chose AFT because of their respect for our local autonomy, formalized in our constitution and bylaws. We are proud of the successful partnership we’ve formed with AFT, grateful for their unwavering commitment to standing up for our rights as graduate workers, and appreciative of the tireless organizing support they have provided as we move toward a union recognition election. We work in solidarity with the AFT as we strive to create a legally-recognized and democratically-run, independent local union of Cornell grads. Voting “yes” for our graduate union is a vote for a more democratic and inclusive Cornell.

We’ve started an organization from scratch with our passion for fairness, respect and democracy.  And now we’re inviting you to join us and make it official. Our choice is clear. Let’s take this bold step forward when we go to the polls next week.

Paul Berry, grad
Juan Guevara, grad
Caroline Walker, grad
Tyler McCann, grad
Rose Agger, grad