Boris Tsang / Sun Assistant Photography Editor

CGSU is “requesting that remedies include a public notice of the violations by the University and a window of time during which CGSU may request that the arbitrator set a date for a new union recognition election.”

April 15, 2018

Arbitrator Finds University Email to Grad Students During Union Recognition Election Is Arbitrable

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A controversial email sent by an administrator to graduate students during the March 2017 union recognition election will be considered as evidence during the arbitration process to decide whether the University violated the election agreement.

Howard C. Edelman, the arbitrator, ruled on April 2 that the email alleging Cornell Graduate Students United members engaged in voter intimidation sent last year on March 27 is arbitrable, despite the University saying otherwise, allowing the arbitration process to move forward. A decision will be reached on May 22 and may pave the way for another election — if the CGSU wins and desires another one.

The email in question, sent by Mary Opperman, vice president of human resources, said the University “received a report that a number of CGSU/AFT/NYSUT representatives have told eligible voters who don’t support the union not to vote” and that “the student making the report noted he felt threatened by the representatives,” The Sun previously reported.

The email, which forms the basis of one of three objections filed by CGSU in February regarding the University’s conduct during the election, was an effort to “disparag[e] the Union … to induce voters to vote against the Union,” according to Matthew Fischer-Daly grad, administrative liaison on CGSU’s steering committee and chair of the Union Management Committee.

The University argued that CGSU’s objection to this email was not arbitrable on the grounds that the email was not raised in a 10-day period required by the Union-University Conduct Rules and Recognition Election Agreement in cases of disputes, according to the arbitrator’s award.

The arbitrator said in the award document that on April 4, 2017, he had waived the time limits specified in the election agreement and that his order to waive these limits had “encompassed all events which occurred with respect to the election process,” which would include Opperman’s email.

Because the email was included in the waiver, the email will be considered in the arbitration process, according to an award document on April 2.

Fischer-Daly explained that the arbitrator had waived the 10-day period a year ago because “the University asked the Union to negotiate a settlement” and the arbitrator wanted to “encourage negotiation” between the parties.

The University also maintained that the email complied with the order’s prohibitions on “harassing, badgering … or coercing eligible voters” by either party, according to the arbitrator’s award document.

The arbitrator also maintained that any claims that the emails are benign and should not be part of the arbitration process are “misplaced” because the University cannot preemptively decide whether the email was problematic when the whole point of arbitration process is to determine exactly that.

Joel M. Malina, vice president for university relations, told The Sun in a statement on Thursday that the University cannot give specific comments about the ongoing arbitration.

“Cornell University believes it honored its commitments and applicable law throughout the campaign and the election,” Malina said. “The issues raised in arbitration will be fully addressed by the university. We cannot, however, offer any specific comment on pending cases.”

In addition to its objection regarding Opperman’s email, CGSU also argues that the University “inhibited the free choice of voters … by threatening graduate students with job loss if they voted to be represented by the Union,” Fischer-Daly told The Sun.

In an Ask a Dean portion of an email sent to graduate students on March 26, 2017, the night before the election, Barbara Knuth, senior vice provost and dean of the Graduate School, said — in response to a question about costs of added benefits if unionization were to occur — that funds are “limited” and that “significantly increased costs” could lead to a reduction in the number of graduate students at Cornell, The Sun previously reported.

CGSU’s final objection accuses the University of “bestowing benefits during … voting in an effort to induce voters to vote against the Union” by announcing in a March 27, 2017 email that the University would cut healthcare costs during the following academic year, which was a major issue in CGSU’s campaign, as previously reported by The Sun.

Fischer-Daly told The Sun that CGSU is “requesting that remedies include a public notice of the violations by the University and a window of time during which CGSU may request that the arbitrator set a date for a new union recognition election.”

He also noted that it will only be possible for the arbitrator to decide on how to address the election ballots that remain contested once the final decision is reached in arbitration.

According to Fischer-Daly, the arbitrator’s final decision on CGSU’s objections is due on May 22. CGSU’s brief to the arbitrator was due on April 10, the University’s brief is due on April 24 and the Union’s reply is due on May 1.