Isabelle Jung/Sun Graphics Editor

April 29, 2024

LETTER TO THE EDITOR | Union Shop isn’t Academic Freedom

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Re: “‘Meet Us at the Bargaining Table’: Cornell Graduate Students United Rallies for Employment Protections” (news, April 10)

In coverage of the CGSU-UE’s Rally for Respect, the Cornell Daily Sun broadcasted the union’s unscrutinized propaganda advocating for union shop, a clause in our proposed contract which forces all grad students to support the union as a condition of earning our degrees. Rally speaker Amy Tsai described union shop as a “contract provision that means everyone is automatically a member of CGSU-UE.” This is a lie! Nobody automatically becomes a member. In fact, when MIT’s grad student union was charged with breaking the law for telling this exact lie, the NLRB required them to post a notice of their unfair labor practice. In reality, the union can at most compel us to pay “agency fees,” regular dues minus those funds dedicated to political activity, while eliminating our right to vote on our contract. 

The truth undermines Tsai’s primary defense of union shop: protection from advisor retaliation. Joining a union is always a choice, albeit one under considerable coercion, and forcing non-members to pay is no shield. CGSU-UE’s union shop is more about securing a cash flow than securing grad students. This is no secret given how they unabashedly bemoan the work of convincing new students of the union’s benefits before siphoning off their paychecks, dismissing such representation as not a “real issue.”

As the purported bedrock of a strong union, union shop is couched as defense of academic freedom (for union-approved messages), but in practice it would compel grad students to financially support all union expression. Though agency fees technically cannot contribute to political activity, this rally, which no doubt counts as union representation chargeable to non-members, was full of political speech. Besides two speakers discussing lab safety and advisor retaliation, the rest used the platform to make overtly pro-Palestinian statements, including a wisecrack about Zionists and allegations of racialized enforcement of the student code of conduct..
I commend all of the speakers at the rally for their willingness to publicly champion their ideas. My point is that this activity is manifestly political, controversial and of a fundamentally different  kind than negotiating free TCAT passes for grad students. I zealously defend CGSU-UE’s liberty to express their views, but I ask them to respect my liberty not to. Union shop necessarily compels affiliation and support for union expression, which is inimical to academic freedom. The union has enough power already to win economic gains. Demanding my voice for political expression is going too far. To borrow an illustrative quote from the union rally, “Today, it is Palestine. Tomorrow, who knows what it will be?” I hope it’s vision and dental insurance.

— Benjamin Gregory grad

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