Hannah Rosenberg/Sun Photography Editor

Wednesday's Employee Assembly meeting paves the way for future group meetings throughout the year.

September 3, 2021

Employee Assembly Cuts Costs, Confronts COVID-19 and Code of Conduct

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As the fall semester gets underway, the Employee Assembly kicked off its business for the year, meeting Wednesday over Zoom to approve its budget, decide future plans and weigh in on other assemblies’ decisions. 

Like the Student Assembly –– which represents undergraduate students –– the Employee Assembly is the shared governance body at Cornell that represents non-faculty staff and works with the University administration to find solutions to their concerns. 

Since the E.A. has expenses of its own — to fund committees, pay space rental fees and fund staff awards — their first meeting of the year began with Vice Chair of Operations and Finance Kit Tannenbaum presenting the E.A.’s proposed $9,650 budget for fiscal year 2022. The budget passed and will go into effect this year. 

Tannenbaum noted that the E.A.’s biggest expense is its $4,325 allocation for food at in-person meetings, a cost that would go unused if meetings remained online.

The E.A. will also save money this year by ending its annual contribution, usually around $450, to the CARE Fund, an emergency fund that gives $200 to $1,500 grants to Cornell staff experiencing sudden financial hardship. Director of Assemblies ​​Gina Giambattista said the E.A. made this change because funds allocated to the E.A. are meant to support the E.A. itself, not to support other staff outside of the assembly.

Next, the E.A. heard a presentation from Division of Student and Campus Life Representative Brandon Fortenberry, who asked the assembly to help solicit applications for the 15 staff seats open on the new University Hearing and Review Board, which adjudicates Student Code of Conduct violations.

In previous years, applications for the hearing boards were solicited by a campus-wide form sent out by the Office of the Assemblies. But under the new code, assemblies and senates will solicit applications, and members of the E.A. will contact specific staff members whose voices they think are needed on the Hearing Boards. 

Giambattista characterized the old system of recruiting board members through a campus-wide form as disconnected from many Cornellians. Fortenberry said the change came from a desire to keep the whole Cornell community involved in the code as it changes to focus specifically on students. 

“People wanted to not lose that connection to this panel, [because] while it was shifting from a campus code of conduct to a student code of conduct, it still impacts every [constituency],” Fortenberry said. “… A staff or faculty [member] could be someone who has [a code violation] perpetrated upon them.” 

Closing out the meeting, the E.A. heard from its six committees about their projects and preparations for the year. Topics included planning an E.A. retreat, staff awards, the campus pet policy and the structure of the committees themselves.

Many of the committees focus on health — with the benefits and policy committee investigating questions about health insurance in Tompkins County and the issue of opting out of New York State paid family leave. The employee welfare committee chose to focus this year on mental health. Issues brought up will dictate the focus of the E.A.’s committees as the year progresses. 

The employee welfare committee also discussed the ways employees have been affected by remote work, specifically in departments like Information Technology, where one IT staff member worried that remote work would become permanent, despite some staff wanting to return to campus.

For some, issues surrounding remote work are reminiscent of past discussions surrounding how to deal with Cornell’s multiple campuses and global working community.

“We have been working over the last few years now, trying to be more inclusive [of employees at Cornell’s other campuses],” Vice Chair for Communications Ellen Miller said. “But now we have a whole new workforce that didn’t exist before, which are Cornell Ithaca employees that just aren’t physically on campus, and I think that the ‘One Cornell’ mission to be… one global family… needs to be brought to the forefront [when dealing with remote work].”