Sun File Photo

Supporters of unionization embrace on March 29, 2017, after officials from the American Arbitration Association concluded that the election results would be too close to call.

May 31, 2018

March 2017 Union Recognition Election Results Certified; Union Loses, 941-867

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This post has been updated.

After over a year, the results of the March 2017 graduate assistant union recognition election have been certified by arbitrator Howard C. Edelman, with 941 votes against and 867 votes in favor of unionization.

Approximately 80 percent of eligible graduate student assistants voted in the election, and 81 ballots remained uncounted until the recent certification, as previously reported by The Sun. Uncounted ballots included six absentee ballots and 75 challenged ballots.

The result, a loss for Cornell Graduate Students United, means CGSU will not be able to file another unionization election petition for a year — until May 25, 2019.

This timeline clarifies the Edelman’s May 16 arbitration award, which had said that “CGSU shall have twelve months from that certification to petition for a new election.”

In a statement to The Sun on Tuesday, Joel M. Malina, vice president for university relations, said the University is “pleased” that the election has been certified.

“The daily contributions of all our graduate students to the university’s teaching, research and engagement mission are an indispensable part of what makes Cornell a unique and vital institution,” he said. “With the outcome of the March 2017 election now final, it is time for all of us to move forward, together, to continue our work to further strengthen graduate education at Cornell.”

Ethan Ritz grad, CGSU’s administration liaison and chair of the Union Management Committee, told The Sun on Thursday that he was “not surprised” that the certification of the election indicated a loss for the union.

“Though of course I had hoped for a recognition win (a significant step towards collective bargaining and a contract that protects us as workers) last spring, I was not surprised the election was certified as a loss,” he said. “Of 1856 submitted ballots, only 81 had been left uncounted, 73 of which needed to be “yes” votes to secure a CGSU win – it was hard to expect certification would have changed the results of the initial count.”

The certification of the election result comes after CGSU’s legal counsel filed objections in February regarding University conduct surrounding the election. Each of CGSU’s three objections pertained to a different email sent by the University to graduate students before or during the election period.

Edelman found on May 16 that one of the emails — sent on the night before the election by Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth — violated the National Labor Relations Act and the election code of conduct agreed upon by the University and the union before the election.

The Ask a Dean section of the email in question suggested, in response to a student’s question about where the University would find the money to pay for added benefits if unionization were to occur, that “significantly increased costs” could potentially “lead to reduced numbers of graduate students at Cornell.”

CGSU’s other two objections were not found to be in violation of the NLRA, and Edelman denied CGSU’s request for the election results to be cancelled and for the ability to schedule a new union recognition within 18 months following the certification of the original results.

Edelman, who said elections “should not be lightly set aside,” noted that the sentence in the email that violated the NLRA was removed in a later message sent the next day by the University. He said it is “virtually impossible to determine how many voters read the first one and/or the second” and that the “‘recall’ of the first certainly moderated its impact.”

Ritz told The Sun that although he is “disappointed” that the arbitrator ruled that the union will not be able to petition for another election until late May of next year, he does not “think it changes very much.”

“A union’s strength comes from the support of its members and advocating for the rights of workers, which we can do regardless of when the next recognition election is held,” he said.

Henry Kunerth grad, chair of CGSU’s communication and outreach committee, told The Sun on Thursday that CGSU can help graduate assistants even if the union is not officially recognized.

“We feel strongly that CGSU can be a source of support and assistance to graduate workers with or without official recognition,” he said. “We will be working to build solidarity and advocate for workers rights regardless.”