Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Cornell Graduate Students united organizers hosted a pre-orientation outreach session at Bailey Hall on Monday to recruit new members and gear up for the coming semesters.

August 22, 2017

With New Tactics, Graduate Students Look to Renew Last Year’s Union Effort

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After a summer hiatus, Cornell Graduate Students United kicked back into gear on Monday with a first-year pre-orientation outreach at Bailey Hall, where representatives offered buttons and literature and encouraged new Cornellians to get involved with the labor organization.

Since 2014, CGSU has organized with the goal of being recognized by Cornell as a union, representing teaching assistants, research assistants and graduate assistants at Cornell. The group held a vote for unionization in March, in which results were deemed too close to call by the American Arbitration Association.

During the vote, 856 votes were cast in favor of unionization and 919 against, but 81 challenge votes rendered the results indeterminate. Nearly five months later, the result has still not been conclusively determined, although more than 80 percent of the challenged ballots would need to be in favor of unionization for CGSU to come out on top.

“This year, we are focused on our next campaign,” said Kevin Hines, grad, an organizer with CGSU. “There’s a lot of energy out here and hope for this next campaign.”

“We are trying to figure out who the bargaining unit is again … since there is so much turnover with graduate students,” he added. “Then we start the next campaign process, which starts first with the new agreement with Cornell.”

Many graduate students were only indirectly involved with CGSU, Thomas Eisenberg, grad, said, which he attributed to a lack of peer-to-peer engagement and community outreach. That kind of involvement would help students feel a sense of ownership over the project’s goals, Eisenberg, an organizer, said.

Vera Khovanskaya, grad, said she was delighted to notice that many newcomers were already aware of and curious about CGSU’s mission.

“It’s fun to see first-year graduate students come up to our table already with an idea of who we are and what we do,” she told The Sun. “They already know so much about CGSU, and they’re asking about when the next vote is.”

Organizers hosted the pre-orientation outreach session outside of Bailey Hall to focus on the year ahead, with many of the same goals, but new tactics.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Organizers hosted the pre-orientation outreach session outside of Bailey Hall to focus on the year ahead, with many of the same goals, but new tactics.

Discussing the group’s strategy for this year, Jared Kent-Dobias, chair of communications for CGSU, said that “many graduate students do not see the kind of work that they do [as TAs and researchers] as work,” something he hopes to change.

“We want contracts for our work, we want raises, and we want terms of firing and hiring which are legally binding for graduate workers that are not just on the university’s whim,” he said, pointing out that the group’s policy platform has not changed significantly from last year.

“We want a grievance process that involves third parties, that does not involve the chairs of our departments. We want insurance that can actually cover both the graduate students and their families.”

Kent-Dobias sees the group’s proposed goals at Cornell as a way to improve the working conditions of people in similarly situated positions around the country.

“Helping with the condition of graduate labor at Cornell in some small way helps raise the standard for academic labor conditions in the nation,” he said. “We just want to see graduate students treated more like workers for the work that they do.”