In the March 3, 2017 Graduate School Announcements email’s “Ask a Dean” feature, there was a featured question asking what would happen if graduate employees decided to strike. In her response to this question, Dean of the Graduate School Barbara Knuth, wrote, “Very few undergraduate courses have a graduate assistant as an instructor of record, so it is unlikely that many, if any, classes would stop due to the absence (on strike) of graduate assistants, but such a situation has not occurred before at Cornell so it is hard to predict what the full set of consequences would be.” I write today as a graduate employee teaching a first-year writing seminar, an active participant in shared governance at Cornell and proud supporter and member of Cornell Graduate Students United to affirm the essential labor of graduate employees belittled and erased by Knuth’s response. Even if we follow the scope of Knuth’s response and only focus on teaching assistants, it must be recognized that the labor provided to Cornell University by graduate employees is absolutely essential to its daily functioning and ability to fulfill its educational mission. Full stop. No qualifiers.
The Ithaca College Contingent Faculty, including full-time and part-time faculty, have authorized labor actions up to and including a strike. The authorization vote came last week, after 18 months of bargaining failed to persuade the Ithaca College administration to commit to the fundamental labor principles of “pay parity” and “equal pay for equal work.” The faculty members facing contingent work conditions, amounting to almost half of the current number of faculty at Ithaca College, held a rally on Monday, Feb 20th at the main entrance of IC campus. The rally preceded two days of scheduled mediation with the College administration and demonstrated the group’s collective power as well as public support for their insistent struggle to secure fair working and living conditions. We, the members of Cornell Graduate Students United and Cornell Organization for Labor Action, stand in solidarity with the Ithaca College Contingent Faculty and unconditionally support all future labor actions undertaken by them. We insist that no worker deserves the precarious, insecure and flexible working and living conditions to which full-time and part-time contingent faculty at Ithaca College are subjected.
The socio-political climate recently has been emotionally taxing, taking a toll on our graduate student body. Locally, this has been exacerbated by the vitriolic nature of discussions on the union, with accusations flying on both sides. Some have charged CGSU with harassing tactics. Others are painting neutrality or alternate views about the union as self-interest and apathy towards the welfare of their peers across fields. We are writing as the two graduate student representatives on the General Committee, the administrative, legislative and judicial board of the Graduate School.
ByNicole Wiles, Mark Obstalecki, Kyle Mack and Siddarth Chandrasekaran |
To the Editor:
Unions in workplaces are a much-needed apparatus to ensure equitable work conditions. The power of collective bargaining is indisputably beneficial to workers in establishing fair contracts. Our vote in the impending referendum on the matter of unionizing graduate workers is of grave importance, and we bear the burden of vastly influencing the course of graduate education in Cornell and beyond. Follow not in the footsteps of Brexit, widely recognized as the glorious failure of democracy through uninformed, misinformed voters who leveraged their responsibility to vote through passion and nonchalance, bereft of rationality. This letter aims to understand the effect of unionization particularly through CGSU, as an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and New York State United Teachers.
On September 21, at 4 p.m., Marsha Jean-Charles walked out of Caldwell Hall into the afternoon sun, surrounded by friends and greeted by supporters. She’d just finished presenting her case clearly and calmly to her appointed Graduate Grievance Review Board, after nearly four months of navigating Cornell’s grievance process. A hearing with a GGRB, composed of a board chair plus two anonymous faculty members and two anonymous grads, is the fourth and final step of this process. One way or another, Marsha felt ready for a decision — for closure. Six weeks later, Marsha was still in limbo. Incomprehensibly (and as the policy listed on the Graduate School website fails to make clear), a grievant is not entitled to access the recommendation of the GGRB.
I am writing as a graduate student who has been involved with the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly since spring 2013 and with Cornell Graduate Students United since spring 2014 in order to respond to some of the discourse around shared governance that has emerged in debates over graduate student unionization this semester. I am a proud member of both organizations and believe deeply in the necessity of each, and based both on my own experience and the extensive evidence from other universities at which both graduate student unions and assemblies productively coexist, I believe unequivocally in the potential for both organizations to continue to work effectively after a unionization vote. The GPSA is not at all threatened by the formal recognition of CGSU as an exclusive collective bargaining unit. More importantly, I want to respond to the idea encapsulated in Interim President Rawlings’s statement that graduate students already have a significant voice in administration, and that “We have not been able to solve every issue raised by students, but I believe we are better able to work through differences of opinion in a collegial atmosphere than in a potentially adversarial collective bargaining setting.” There are two issues to look at in evaluating this claim: first, the Board of Trustees’ decision to not raise the minimum stipend of Research Assistants to be equal to Teaching Assistants in spring 2014, and second, workers’ compensation. When the Trustees made their decision on graduate student stipends, they did so with the consultation of a handful of graduate student leaders who were forbidden from discussing the issue with other graduate students.
In his “statement on graduate assistant labor union representation” (October 27), Interim President Hunter Rawlings cites the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR School) as being “the leader in the field of labor education.” We write here as faculty of the ILR School, drawing on our expertise and experience in the field of labor law, labor relations and labor rights. We agree with President Rawlings that it is essential that the University respect the graduate assistants’ choice of whether they wish to be represented by a union. We also agree that it is important that graduate assistants have access to information relevant to making their choice. Unfortunately, however, President Rawlings’ statement presents a negative view of unionization based on speculation and unsubstantiated assertions. In responding to these speculative claims, our letter seeks to provide useful information about the reality of unionization in universities.
“The administration may make one formal communication to Graduate Assistants regarding the University’s position on unionization. ‘Formal communication’ shall be defined as a written document setting forth the University’s official position that is signed by the President or another senior University Officer. i. The document shall be distributed via email to the Cornell campus (one time) and posted to a public CORNELL website(s). …”
This passage is from the “Union-University Conduct Rules and Recognition Election Agreement,” the document signed last May that details the current Union-University relationship. Interim President Hunter Rawlings was far from violating the agreement when he emailed his and the administration’s opinion last Thursday and in fact was distributing it to the entire Cornell Campus as stipulated.