Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Two union supporters embrace outside of the room where ballots were being counted after American Arbitration Association officials concluded that the election would be too close to call.

March 29, 2017

Union Election Results Too Close to Call

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After two and a half hours of counting ballots and over an hour of discussions and deliberations, officials from the American Arbitration Association declined to announce a result in this week’s union recognition election.

Although 856 votes were cast in favor of unionization and 919 were cast against, there were 81 votes that were not counted for various reasons — enough to make up the deficit for union supporters.

Sixty-five challenge ballots were set aside to be discussed further, while six absentee ballots were not yet opened. In addition, there were 10 unresolved challenge ballots, which were ballots cast by voters that did not mark their intentions clearly.

After three years of organizing, protests, rallies, demonstrations and even at-home sollicitations, graduate students headed to the polls on Monday and Tuesday to vote on whether they wanted to recognize Cornell Graduate Students United, with affiliates American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers, as their official graduate student union.

The vote was made possible by an August decision by the National Labor Relations Board ruling that graduates can be classified as workers in addition to their role as students. The decision triggered a contract agreed upon by CGSU and the University in May 2016. The contract established a code of conduct for campaigning, the eligible voters and election procedures.

Out of the approximately 2,300 eligible voters, 1,856 cast ballots in the election for a turnout rate of around 80 percent.

After the last ballot was counted, more than 20 minutes passed before arbitrators and representatives from the union and Cornell left the room to discuss the results in private. More than an hour passed before any announcement was made.

Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth sent out a statement to the Cornell community early Wednesday morning detailing the inconclusive results of the election.

“It is anticipated that the review process and determination of final outcome will occur within the next month,” she said in the statement. “The arbitrator will notify both Cornell and union representatives when the challenged ballots have been resolved and a final outcome has been reached.”

Over 50 observers filled G01 Biotechnology Building, where votes were counted, withstanding the tension and a noticeably warm temperature, to observe the results as they came in.

As officials from the American Arbitration Association systematically read aloud yes’s and no’s from the seemingly endless stacks of blue ballots, some CGSU members and other observers tried to follow along, furiously tallying the votes in notebooks and pieces of scrap paper.

While nearly all voters simply marked their response on the ballot as instructed, some chose to add more colorful comments to the voting process.

The tension was briefly broken when a ballot was disputed because the voter had written “stop knocking on my fucking door.” The voter checked the yes box, so representatives from both the union and the University agreed that the vote could be marked a “yes.”

“A fucking yes,” an arbitrator joked.

Yet the tension would return quickly and remain until procedures were finished at about 2:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Michaela Brangan, grad, administrative liaison for CGSU, said that after hearing the results she was “surprised but not surprised.”

Recognizing that “a lot of people put their hearts and souls into this campaign,” Brangan and Jaron Kent-Dobias, grad, emphasized the strength that their movement built.

In fact, Kent-Dobias noted that Monday night the graduates had been given a healthcare concession and that “early in the campaign, [the University] made changes to the grievance procedure,” making him hopeful of the power the union gained through its organization.

“Though this particular battle might not have gone as well as we’d have liked, we’re still here,” he said. “We’re still working for Cornell and we still have a voice and the platform and ideas that we started with.”

However, Kent-Dobias was also just looking one day ahead.

“I have to teach for this institution tomorrow,” he said.