Benjamin Parker / Sun Contributor

To show solidarity between unions Ethan Ritz grad, CGSU administration liaison and chair of the union management committee, participated in the Rally for a Living Wage protest.

September 12, 2018

CGSU Regroups, Plans ‘Winnable’ Campaigns at First General Assembly of the Semester

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Cornell Graduate Students United outlined plans for new “winnable” campaigns for the semester following the loss of their certification in the graduate assistant union recognition election in March 2017 at their Wednesday meeting.

CGSU lost the election by 74 votes in an election that saw an approximate 80 percent turnout among eligible graduate student assistants, The Sun previously reported. The vote total was 941 votes against unionization and 867 votes in favor.

CGSU is barred from filing a petition for another union recognition election until May 25.

Henry Kunerth grad, chair of the communications and outreach committee, told The Sun that while winning another union recognition election is a long-term goal, CGSU intends to focus on other initiatives until then.

“We want to grow the union. Eventually we’d like to win a recognition election, but in the meantime we want to act like a union, and we think that there’s things that we can do that will have tangible effects on grad workers’ lives in the meantime,” he said. “And so right now we’re sort of directing our focus toward those initiatives.”

Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting proposed and discussed ideas to tackle issues ranging from mental health to transportation services to holds on registration.

In the area of mental health, David Blatter grad, chair of the Legal Affairs Committee, presented some results of a recent mental health survey distributed by 

CGSU in the spring. He told The Sun that the results were “really useful” and that the Mental Health Working Group plans to start by working toward free or reimbursed gym passes for graduate students.

Other concerns expressed in the survey centered on the relationship between advisors and advisees, the experiences of marginalized and underrepresented communities and the services provided by Counseling and Psychological Services.

CGSU members participated in an Ithaca “Rally for a Living Wage” over the summer and, more recently, showed support for the “Does Cornell Care” campaign by local workers aiming to pressure the University to use skilled local trade laborers in construction projects.

Ethan Ritz grad, CGSU administration liaison and chair of the union management committee, joined construction workers when they protested in mid-August.

“It just seems like it was the right thing to do,” Ritz told The Sun. “Unions stand in solidarity with other unions, and like Cornell showed that it didn’t prioritize … the like health and safety of its workers.”

The meeting comes after the University was ordered to post a notice explaining unionization rights following American Arbitration Association arbitrator Howard C. Edelman’s ruling on May 16 that the University violated the National Labor Relations Act through an email sent to graduate students during the March 2017 union recognition election.

The notice states the arbitrator’s finding that the University violated the NLRA and outlines several rights afforded by federal law including the right to “form, join, or assist a union.” The notice also states that the University “will not do anything that unlawfully prevents you from exercising the above rights,” threaten job loss for union supporters or members or “interfere” with rights under Section 7 of the NLRA.

According to a presentation slide at the meeting, the University sent the notice in an email to all graduate students on Aug.16. Ritz explained that the notice is also physically posted “for 60 continuous days at the Big Red Barn, the Physical Sciences Building, Goldwin Smith and Biotech.”

Over 50 people attended Wednesday’s meeting, according to Vera Khovanskaya grad. The meeting concluded with attendees taking a photograph in front of “#DoesCornellCare?” written on the whiteboard.