Courtesy of Pete Meyers

The organizers of the Annual Labor Day Picnic held at Stewart Park give out several awards, including the Goat of Labor award for offending workers' rights.

September 4, 2018

At Labor Day Picnic in Ithaca, Cornell Wins Award for Disregarding Workers’ Rights

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This post has been updated.

At the 35th Annual Labor Day Picnic in Ithaca, Cornell University received the Goat of Labor award, which goes to an employer that allegedly offends workers’ rights, due to its treatment of construction workers on the Maplewood Project.

According to a Tompkins County Workers’ Center press release, the award is given to an “especially egregious offender of workers’ rights and/or the value of labor to our common good.”

The Tompkins-Cortland Building & Construction Trades Council, a group of AFL-CIO-affiliated construction trades unions, recently created a petition that asks the University to require that local workers are used for construction of all future student housing projects, The Sun previously reported. 

Jerry Morley, a business agent for the United Association Plumbers and Steamfitters, told The Sun in August that 90 of his 240 members were unemployed over the winter and about 50 over the summer. He said having the Maplewood project would have resulted in full employment for his members. 

Alessandro Powell grad, member of the Cornell Graduate Students United organizing committee, and David Blatter grad, CGSU secretary, presented Cornell’s Goat of Labor award and delivered a short speech at the picnic.

Blatter called Cornell’s treatment of local community workers “reprehensible,” but emphasized that even though the Goat of Labor award was given to the University, the “bond and relationship between … the ILR school at Cornell, between the Workers’ Center and various other unions, is still there.”

“The Goat of Labor award is a tool that we hope can improve relations and spread awareness about these practices as well as creating solidarity around the issue,” Blatter said. “Cornell has a great deal of responsibility as by far the biggest employer in Ithaca and as a huge owner of property.”

Blatter said that Cornell’s “policies really contradict” its reputation, “at least amongst students, as being a progressive, liberal institution.” He said he would like to “point that out to students.”

“We need to hold [Cornell] accountable to practicing what they preach and really walking the talk,” Blatter said. “It’s important that Cornell University is an exemplar to other institutions locally, where labor practices are a huge problem, especially if Cornell is to be a voice and a critic of these organizations, these labor farms and dairy producers that have atrocious labor policies.”

The University declined to comment.

The picnic was held in Ithaca’s Stewart Park Main Pavillion and was attended by 300 to 400 people, according to Pete Meyers, coordinator at the Tompkins County Workers’ Center. The center, the Midstate Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Tompkins/Cortland Labor Committee organized the picnic, and the theme of this year’s event was ‘Why a Union? Why a Living Wage?’

Over 15 organizations set up booths at the event to spread awareness about labor rights, and free burgers, hot dogs, ice cream and beverages were served at the event. The Mother Jones, Joe Hill and Friend of Labor awards were also presented to people “for their activism, organizing, and sacrifice at work,” according to the Workers’ Center press release. Live music was performed by Alexander Bradshaw.

“This event is really about building the labor movement more than anything for those who are already in unions and those who aren’t,” Meyers said. “It’s also about helping workers realize that we have to fight for our rights ourselves because no one else will.”

Powell said he thinks the event was “definitely a success.”

“I’m glad to see so many people from the University and the community at the same place at the same time,” Powell added. “It speaks to the solidarity of the region that we have and the relations that we continue to have.”