Our union, Cornell Graduate Students United (CGSU), was formed by graduate students from across Cornell in March 2014 to be a new advocate for and provide an independent mechanism for collective voice in our employment relationship with the University. During our first year we created several working groups and got to work on several pressing projects of interest to our members including work-family policy and obtaining workers’ compensation access for graduate students TAing and RAing. Due to CGSU and GPSA advocacy, the University changed its policy and agreed that students working on assistantship appointments were employees entitled to coverage under New York State’s workers’ compensation law. This was a major change from the University’s previous position that graduate student assistants were not employees of the University eligible for coverage.
In the fall of 2014, CGSU ratified its Constitution and Bylaws to institutionalize its commitment to democratic, transparent, and participatory union governance and soon began its campaign for recognition from the University as the collective bargaining representative for Cornell graduate student employees. The Constitution created several committees, to conduct the work of the Union and also created a Steering Committee to serve as the connecting node to link the work of the committees. In the spring of 2015, the union created an affiliation working group to help the union consider options for a partnership with larger national unions involved with higher education organizing. In April 2015, the union wrote to the University asking it to come to the table to negotiate a neutrality and voluntary recognition agreement with CGSU, which would allow us to begin to formalize our relationship. After a months-long process getting to know several unions that were interested in partnering with us, CGSU members voted in September 2015 to ratify an affiliation agreement that affiliated CGSU with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Education Association (NEA), as well as both national unions’ state affiliate: New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).
In December 2015, CGSU, AFT, NYSUT, and the University began negotiations for a code of conduct and recognition election agreement that was ratified by CGSU members in May 2016. As we said in a joint statement released with the University during our negotiations in April 2016, “the Union and the University are committed to building a relationship that is aligned with Cornell’s core value of being a ‘collaborative, collegial, and caring community’.” The community CGSU continues to grow and nurture inspires us every day. Graduate student work makes Cornell work and we look forward to helping make Cornell a better place to learn and work in the months and years ahead.