Arbitrator Finds Cornell Broke Federal Law During Union Election

An arbitrator has ruled Cornell University violated the National Labor Relations Act during a union election for 2,500 teaching and research assistants and ordered the university to post an official notice alerting the campus community to its malfeasance.

In an award released Wednesday, the arbitrator, Howard Edelman, also rejected Cornell’s attempt to bar a new election for the graduate employees for another 12 months.

As Cornell graduate employees went to the polls in March 2017 to decide if their union, Cornell Graduate Students United, should bargain on their behalf, the Cornell administration abused official mass communication channels to chill voters, in direct violation of both a pre-election agreement signed between Cornell and CGSU, and the National Labor Relations Act. The act prohibits communications and other actions that pollute the conditions that enable free choice at an election.

On election eve, Graduate School Dean Barbara Knuth, who remains employed by Cornell, sent a mass email claiming a union could mean “reduced numbers of graduate students at Cornell,” an alarming threat for graduate workers concerned with their job security. The arbitrator found that graduate workers could have reasonably inferred “that a vote for [the union] puts [a grad worker’s] position in danger.”

CGSU filed three charges contending that Cornell inhibited, contaminated and tainted the free choice of voters in violation of the National Labor Relations Act and the parties’ code of conduct agreement, thereby destroying the “laboratory conditions” required for the election.

There were 856 votes cast in favor of CGSU and 919 against, with 65 challenged and 16 unresolved ballots. The challenged ballots have yet to be examined. Before the vote, a majority of Cornell graduate employees signed a petition supporting the union and calling for an election.

Aubrie James, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology, said: “I feel relieved that we have a path forward for how to resolve last year’s election. We are working so hard in organizing for labor rights at Cornell, and this decision is another thrust forward in those efforts. I also feel energized by the unionization movements of grads like us across the country. I think at this point in time, given the hostile national environment we find ourselves in, where schools like Columbia and UChicago are refusing to recognize or bargain with grad workers’ hard-won unions, we need to dig into both local and national grad worker solidarity. CGSU’s decision to file objections provides a unique chance to send the message that administration electioneering and sidewinding has no place in grad workers’ efforts toward unionization.”

“The Cornell administration’s violation of labor law shows its lack of regard for labor rights and shared governance. The university depends on the labor of graduate student workers, who teach, grade and conduct research,” said Johnnie Kallas, a first-year graduate student at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “As an ILR student, it’s disturbing that the university took illegal anti-union action mere steps away from classrooms where its faculty and grad workers teach appropriate labor relations. I am excited for CGSU to continue growing, and I look forward to the day when Cornell engages in respectful, productive negotiations to improve grad workers’ conditions and the university community.”

Randi Weingarten, president of CGSU's national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers, and a Cornell ILR alumna, said: “A great university like Cornell should hold itself to high ethical standards, not be so fearful of its graduate workers having voice that it would resort to the kind of illegal misconduct that union-busting employers are known to do. That is particularly true when it is the home of one of the most prestigious schools of labor relations in the world.

“Rather than follow the agreement it reached with its graduate employees on how to conduct itself during a union election campaign, or listen to its own ILR school, the Cornell administration embarked on an illegal campaign of misconduct to chill grads’ free choice. We are grateful to the arbitrator for calling out Cornell’s violation of law and to the CGSU Organizing Committee for wanting justice to be served. Unfortunately, this misconduct has had its consequences, as justice delayed is often justice denied. At the same, we will continue to support CGSU, and we are confident that grads will soon win the union they’ve dedicated the last four years to building from scratch.”

While most other contested recognition elections for graduate employees at private universities have come before the National Labor Relations Board, CGSU and Cornell opted for an election under a code of conduct agreement with additional terms and a mutually agreed-upon arbitrator.

CGSU General Assembly and Holiday Party!

Our union is holding a general assembly meeting at 5 PM next Thursday, December 7th, in Biotech building room G10! Expect a meeting focused on working out the organizational structures we'll rely on as we dive into the Spring semester. There will be pizza, unionization and tax law fact-checking, organizing campus neighborhoods (?!), and the election of a replacement treasurer to the steering committee. The full agenda is below the jump, but in the meantime...

Had enough of stuffy, hard-working assemblies? No matter: CGSU is throwing a holiday cookie-decorating extravaganza and general fun party, next Saturday, December 9th, at The Westy! Your organizing committee will supply sugar cookies, decorating supplies, and (eventually) pizza. You'll supply money for alcoholic drinks (if desired) and cookies of your own design (if so inclined). Decorate a CGSU cookie! Make a funny cookie likeness of your favorite professor, dean, or steering committee member! The possibilities are endless! You can RSVP to the event on Facebook, or add it to your calendar via our website.

I'm excited to get down to brass tacks with all of you!

December 2017 GA Agenda

  2. Union news
  3. Building our organizing structures
  4. Unionization & tax law FAQs
  5. Treasurer election

2. Union News

Lots has been happening in our union, and those going to all the meetings are rearing to let you know exactly what! The facilitators will share all relevant goings-on and help get any questions answered.

While you wait, here's a sample news item on the ongoing referendum! Right now only 58 more people need to vote to reach quorum. Tell your friends to get to the polls (by searching "Helios" in their email). Those polls will stay open until two days after quorum is reached or around the beginning of next semester, January 26.

3. Building Our Organizing Structure

The organizing committee has been hard at work retooling the way that our union organizes and operates, and they're ready to rope you all in! We're excited to roll out a new organizing model that breaks campus into sensible, relatively autonomous organizing units whose student activists have to deal with less work and have more latitude about how to organize their departments. We'll break out into groups, talk with neighboring departments and fields to figure out where to team up, and start the networking needed to make such a decentralized system work. Can't wait to get started? Take our campus connections survey to give the organizing committee a better idea of potential department "neighborhoods" before the meeting!

4. Unionization & Tax Law FAQs

Organizing for union-won rights is hard, and answering tough questions about our effort can make you feel like the weight of human knowledge lies on your shoulders alone. But don't worry: others have thought hard about these questions before you and are ready to share their sources of wisdom! We'll break out into groups to talk common questions about unionization and good, researched answers. Also, seeing as recently proposed tax law has been in the news and on our minds lately, we'll talk about what some grads have found and what we still can't be sure of regarding the Republican legislation. Come and put your minds at exactly as much ease as is merited!

5. Treasurer Election

One of our steering committee members recently stepped down, and we need to replace them! Come with nominations in mind: we'll take the full list of nominees, give each the chance to speak (if they're present and so desire), vote, and count the ballots then and there. Don't miss out on helping construct our union's only elected body!

The Grad Tax: What we know, and what we can do

Last week, the House of Representatives passed H.R.1 – Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Along with many other troubling provisions, this legislation proposed to strike subsection 117(d) from the current tax code, which concerns remission for university employees. We believe this bill would damage graduate education in the US, and could potentially add undue financial burdens to current graduate students if signed into law. Given the urgency of the issue, we offer our perspective to clarify recent misleading information from the Cornell Graduate School on H.R.1, and encourage you to pressure your senators and representatives to reject this provision.

Grad workers’ tuition is set and controlled by the University, and is often either waived as a condition of our employment as TAs, RAs, and GRAs, or is paid through external fellowships. Under the current federal tax code, this amount is not considered income for tax purposes when waived. The tax proposal put forward by the House of Representatives seeks to remove subsection 117(d), and would make tuition waivers or reductions for graduate students, as well as any employee taking classes, taxable income. In short, this would drastically cut graduate students’ take-home income after taxes. In practice, this would disproportionately hurt students of color, first-generation college students, those from the working class, supporting families, or who already shoulder debt, and other so-called non-traditional students, directing potential students away from graduate schools across the country. As such, this policy would effectively close off graduate education to all but the wealthiest students who could independently support their study.

The potentially devastating effect of H.R.1 on U.S. higher education has been discussed in a number of forums including The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, The Nation, The Washington Post, and NPR. Additionally, the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students and the Modern Language Association’s Committee on the Status of Graduate Students in the Profession have denounced H.R.1.

Precisely how the proposed tax bill would affect grad workers at Cornell remains unclear, yet the Cornell Graduate School has assured us that Cornell grads will not be affected by the proposed change in tax policy. This assurance was a disappointingly dismissive perspective on the issue. The recent communication from the Cornell Graduate School stating that “Cornell University does not rely on 117(d) for favorable tuition-related tax treatment of funded graduate students, who are considered students, not employees, at Cornell” and “the proposed repeal of section 117(d), if passed into law, will not have an impact on how Cornell graduate students' tuition scholarships are handled” was at best misleading and at worst blatant propaganda.

Here is what we know:

  1. Following the Columbia University decision, graduate students at private universities are considered statutory employees covered by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), regardless of Cornell’s willingness to recognize us as workers.
  2. Employee status can vary under different federal statutes or in different jurisdictions. Being considered an employee with the right to organize under the NLRA does not necessarily equate to being an employee for tax purposes. Calling grads ‘workers’ in recognition of labor rights would not necessarily contradict calling grads ‘students’ in tax paperwork. In fact, the Columbia University decision suggests that graduate students’ status as students could constitute “an additional relationship” beyond the purview of the NLRA. Given this ambiguity, definitive statements which claim or insinuate that grads’ labor status as ‘workers’ will negatively affect their tax situation (or that their status as ‘students’ will shelter them from such negative effects) are dishonest.
  3. Tuition waivers for students with assistantships are linked to work performed for the University. They are provided as part of an assistantship package, can be terminated for failure to perform assistantship duties, and are never clearly designated as scholarships on assistantship paperwork.
  4. Subsection 117(d)(5) specifically references teaching and research assistants as benefiting from qualified tuition reductions. Since both qualified scholarships and qualified tuition reductions both previously fell under the same exemption, the current tax code does not clearly define what distinguishes a qualified scholarship from a qualified tuition reduction.

In light of these facts, it was irresponsible of the University to communicate certainty to grads in their interpretation of H.R.1, which recently passed through the House. Other private universities have released either far more reserved statements about the bill, or none at all.

Currently, the United States Senate is considering their own version of the tax proposal, which retains subsection 117(d). Once the Senate votes on their version of the tax bill, they will conference with the House of Representatives and reach a consensus on the final language of the tax proposal, which will then be sent to the President to be signed into law or vetoed.

There are a few ways we can work together to push back on this bill. Calling your senators and participating in the letter campaign sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers to oppose the bill are good places to start, but are not the end. Ultimately, we grads need a structure to help us advocate for our position when the University needs to make difficult monetary choices; this has always been true, but is now urgent. The University is a corporation with a bottom line – if it has to act with “fiduciary responsibility” to protect its (potentially newly taxable) endowment, grad workers will be some of the first to suffer financially. The main function of collective action and a collective voice in the form of a union is to help us advocate for our working conditions in these uncertain times.

We encourage you to get in touch with the CGSU Steering Committee at should you have any questions or concerns. We also encourage you to attend our General Assembly meeting on December 7 (whose formal announcement is forthcoming), where the proposed tax bill will be a continued topic of conversation.

CGSU Rescinds Its Endorsement of Reed Steberger

Earlier this summer, CGSU members voted to endorse Reed Steberger's candidacy for Tompkins County Legislature based on the content of their platform. Today, the Cornell Sun reported several allegations of rape and sexual assault on the part of Steberger. Given this disturbing news, the Steering Committee is rescinding CGSU's endorsement of Steberger. We sincerely apologize to anyone our endorsement hurt.

CGSU Stands in Support of DACA Recipients

In light of recent news, the Steering Committee has released the following statement on behalf of CGSU.

On Tuesday September 5, the Trump administration announced its decision to halt the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, an Obama-era initiative protecting young undocumented immigrants from deportation. This reversal, as CGSU and others see it, is yet another manifestation of the current political climate of poorly concealed white supremacist, nativist, and anti-immigrant sentiments, but is also rooted in a long history of institutional exclusion and structural inequality. CGSU condemns the termination of DACA, stands in solidarity with enrolled individuals and undocumented communities, and vows to offer whatever support we can to ensure their well-being. In a letter sent out to the Cornell community yesterday, President Pollack reiterated the University administration’s commitment to fulfilling the founding motto, “any person/any study,” and mobilizing multiple resources to defend impacted students. CGSU commends the University’s move of providing support and urges President Pollack to continue rigorously building a more democratic and inclusive Cornell. CGSU, in its efforts to advance the rights and interests of graduate workers and the larger community, encourages the University to consistently uphold this spirit of diversity and inclusion, and looks forward to working together in implementing a fairer, more respectful, and democratic Cornell.

In solidarity,

The CGSU Steering Committee
Ethan Susca, Administrative Liaison
Jaron Kent-Dobias, Communications & Outreach Chair
Jesse Goldberg, GPSA Liaison
Josh Savala, Grievances Chair
Danny Rosenberg Daneri, Membership Coordinator
Ethan Ritz, Organizing Chair
Aubrie James, Secretary & Legal Affairs Chair
Ela Correa, Research & Contract Chair
Sampreety Gurung, Treasurer
Lindsay Mercer, Treasurer
Zifeng Liu, Unity Chair

Results are in for May 2017 CGSU Elections!

The 2017 election committee is here to announce the 2017-2018 CGSU Steering Committee officers. Congratulations to all who won seats on next year’s Steering Committee, and a big thank you to everyone who voted.

Administrative Liaison: Ethan Susca
Communication & Outreach Committee Chair: Jaron Kent-Dobias
GPSA Liaison: Jesse Goldberg
Grievances Committee Chair: Josh Savala
Organizing Committee Chair: Ethan Ritz
Membership Coordinator: Danny Rosenberg Daneri
Treasurers (2): Sampreety Gurung & Lindsay Mercer
Secretary/Chair of Legal Affairs: Aubrie James
Research & Contract Committee Chair: Ela Correa
Unity Committee Chair: Zifeng Liu

For in-depth results from the elections please see the linked document from Helios. Please contact us with any questions you have about the election at

Your 2017 Elections Committee,
Augie Faller
Vera Khovanskaya
Kathryn McGill
Yogesh Patil

Call for nominations! 2017-18 Steering Committee

Dear CGSU,

We write on behalf of the 2017 CGSU Election Committee to solicit nominations for candidates to the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee coordinates the work of the union by facilitating member discussion, debate, and participation in decision-making. Any CGSU member may nominate another member or self-nominate for any Steering Committee position.

As we look toward the future of our union in this exciting and incredibly transitional time, our union continues to only be as strong as our members. Even if you don't have a background or experience in this sort of thing, we encourage all CGSU members to consider taking up this opportunity to participate in the process—maybe even by running yourself! The responsibilities of each Steering Committee member can be found in Article II, Section C in the CGSU Constitution. Please note that incumbent Steering Committee members are not eligible to serve in the same position on this year’s Steering Committee.

The Election Committee will accept nominations until May 10th. Please send in all nominations using this form.

Positions are listed below for reference.

1. Administration Liaison
2. Graduate and Professional Student Association (GPSA) Liaison
3. Membership Coordinator
4. Communication and Outreach Standing Committee Chair
5. Organizing Standing Committee Chair
6. Research and Contract Standing Committee Chair
7. & 8. Treasurers (two positions) (co-chair the Finance Standing Committee)
9. Secretary (chairs the Legal Affairs Standing Committee)
10. Grievances Standing Committee Chair
11. Unity Standing Committee Chair

Next steps

After the two week nominations period has concluded, the elections committee will solicit statements from candidates, should positions be contested. These statements will be compiled into a Voter Guide and distributed to the membership.

Electronic Balloting will commence one week after the Voter Guide has been distributed. Members will have one week to vote using an online vote system. After the one week voting period has concluded, Election Committee Members will submit the results to the membership when they have been processed.

Thank you! Please nominate!  

In solidarity,

Your 2017 Elections Committee

Augie Faller
Vera Khovanskaya
Kathryn McGill
Yogesh Patil

Recognition Election Results Still Out

Dear Graduate Workers,

Yesterday we waited late into the night as the American Arbitration Association (AAA) counted the results of our union recognition election. Unfortunately, the result is still inconclusive. The AAA should make a final determination within the next month. 

The results are uncertain because neither side obtained a clear majority, with the number of challenged ballots large enough to determine the election's outcome. Of 1,856 ballots cast, 856 (46.1%) are confirmed votes "yes," 919 (49.5%) are confirmed votes "no," and 81 (4.4%) are either challenged ballots, unresolved marking-related challenges, or absentee ballots that need to be verified. 

Although  a clear majority of voters didn't vote "yes," we remain proud of what we've accomplished together. In 2002, only 30.0% of us voted "yes" for union recognition. Today, in 2017, we made it right to the precipice. We accomplished this together through passion and hard work.  Cornell Graduate Students United was founded by a dozen members in 2014, and now organizes hundreds. Regardless of recognition, we're not going anywhere.  Our union is firmly established and will continue to advocate for our basic rights as workers. We'll keep fighting for fairness, respect, and democracy at Cornell University, whether we're at the bargaining table or not.

Though we're proud of our campaign, we can't say the same of Cornell's conduct. The management has treated us with disrespect throughout the campaign.  Between months of 'Ask a Dean' and public, unverifiable accusations during the election, the Graduate School has used their position of power as our employer to try and influence results in a way that violates the spirit of our Code of Conduct agreement and has garnered national scrutiny. This confirms the position Cornell took when it signed an amicus brief last year directly opposing our rights as workers. Our hard work in teaching and research produces Cornell's value. We pay taxes on our income, write grants, and sign away intellectual property rights. Cornell doesn't always share our  interests, which is why we must keep advocating for them.

Most of all we’d like to say thank you—to all of you—for your support.  Over the past three years our movement has collected the ideas and passions of a remarkable portion of Cornell's graduate population and synthesized them into a formidable voice to power. The connections, consciousness, and platform we've built still exist regardless of recognition, and these have power unto themselves. We will continue to fight against the idea that our highly skilled labor is somehow less than work. We will continue to fight for the benefits and respect that match that work. We will continue to fight against the notion that graduate workers are somehow better off apolitical and apart. It's been inspiring to work together so far, and it's not close to over yet.

The coming weeks may hold a lot of uncertainty, but these are things you can be sure of. We've forged bonds that will not so easily be broken.

Yours in solidarity,

Jaron Kent-Dobias, TA and PhD Candidate (Physics)
Paul G. Berry, TA and PhD Candidate (Development Sociology)

We're already winning

Late yesterday, Cornell administration announced a change in our health insurance benefits, significantly reducing the cost for care received outside the Ithaca area. We’re excited to see that the Graduate School is already moving to improve grad benefits, even before our union election concludes. It’s a sign of the power we can have when we stand together, united, and push for what grads need.

The administration is clearly looking for a way to dissuade you from voting for your union, but it won’t work. This announcement is a victory, and it would not have happened in the absence of our campaign for union recognition. Now, it’s up to us to take the next step and secure this win in a legally-binding collective bargaining agreement, then build on it to win even more improvements. Just think: if this is what the administration is willing to do before the votes are even counted, what might they be willing to do once we actually win recognition?

We had an incredible showing of support for CGSU as soon as the polls opened yesterday, and our path is clear: a yes vote means more power for grads, and more power means we can preserve what we like while making improvements to what isn’t working. We can come up with our own ideas together and present them to management instead of just waiting for emails from the Graduate School. And that will make Cornell a better university for us, our families, our research, and our students.

Now, for some real talk: This election is going to be really close. Hundreds of grads were out voting yesterday, and it’s likely that hundreds more will vote before polls close at 10pm tonight. For us to win recognition for our union, it’s going to come down to each and every one of us getting out and voting yes.

So if you voted yes yesterday: Congratulations! You’ve joined the hundreds of us who already have voted yes and taken a step toward our collective empowerment. This vote is our chance to win the right to negotiate real improvements to our wages and working conditions and build a strong, independent union that raises our voices.

That’s why I’m asking you, as a fellow grad, to help us show overwhelming support for our union. Will you take a photo of yourself with a sign saying “I VOTED CGSU YES”, text it to us at (607) 319-2982 for us to share, and share it on your own social media?

Voting yes means a vote for fairness, respect, and democracy. It means a real voice and real power to push for the things we need to make Cornell better. Now is the time. Let’s make history today and finish our election with a strong CGSU YES vote.

Kevin Hines
Teaching Assistant
Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology

P.S. Don’t forget to text your photo to (607) 319-2982 so we can share it!

NY State Assemblymember Barbara Lifton Endorses CGSU

Following endorsements from Mayor Svante Myrick and Senator Chuck Schumer, our State Assembly representative Barbara Lifton has endorsed a "yes" vote for unionization tomorrow! Read the full text of her letter below.

To Whom it May Concern,

As the NY State Assemblymember for Tompkins and Cortland Counties, I support Cornell Grad Workers, as I do all workers, in your struggle to win fair and safe working conditions from Tompkins County's largest employer. I respect all the hard work you do in your teaching and research and I'm endorsing a "yes" vote in CGSU's upcoming union recognition election.

Barbara Lifton

New York Senator Chuck Schumer Endorses Our Movement!

Following endorsement from Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, New York Senator Chuck Schumer has extended his support for the right of graduate workers to unionize and collectively bargain! You can read his letter below.

To the Cornell Graduate Workers:

As a leading research institution in New York, Cornell plays a crucial role in the development of future generations of citizens, researchers, inventors, scholars, entrepreneurs and more. Fueled by the tireless and ongoing efforts of RAs and TAs, Cornell is a valuable economic driver in the Southern Tier – and the whole state and nation. This past August, the National Labor Relations Board made a significant decision that restored the rights of graduate student research and teaching assistants (RAs and TAs) to collectively bargain at universities. It is a decision I strongly supported because I believe in the right of employees to organize and to collectively bargain for fair contracts. Soon, you will have the opportunity to exercise this right and I encourage all at Cornell who are eligible to participate in this election.

It has been my experience that workplaces function most effectively when there is a proper balance between workers and management. From Day One, the American labor movement has been a springboard for advancement, economic equity and fair representation in the workplace. But perhaps most importantly, unions build the middle class by affording hardworking people fair wages, decent benefits and a say over their work lives.  I have worked for many years with the American Federation of Teachers and can say that they are a first-rate institution that knows how to advocate for its members and build positive, win-win relationships with employers, especially in academic settings.

I commend both the administration and the graduate labor force for both their cooperative engagement in setting rules for the organizing process and their willingness to negotiate a contract should the graduate workers choose to form a union. The ability for RAs and TAs to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and the respect for which the University’s administration and faculty have for this right, is reflected in the ongoing cooperation between the two parties. The healthy functioning of the university community is best secured by ensuring a free and fair election on unionization and, should the majority elect union representation, a prompt engagement in good-faith negotiations for a contract. I commend Cornell for its willingness to pursue this course.

I wish you the best as you engage in this critical process. And I look forward to on ongoing relationship with Cornell University and all its vital components to continue to build that great institution’s capabilities and impact.               


Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator
Democratic Leader

Q&A session today, rally tomorrow!

Dear CGSU members:

Just a few more days until the election!

Our Get Out the Vote Campaign doesn't just consist of friendly office visits and phone reminders about voting day on Monday and Tuesday. We are also hosting fun events, a Q&A sessions today and rally tomorrow with AFT president Randi Weingarten. We want to make sure you're fully informed and sufficiently hyped for next week and beyond!

We'll be hosting a Q&A session to address any last-minute questions before next week's election: 3:30-5pm Malott 253. Join us at the Big Red Barn afterward for cheap drinks and schmoozing. Extra points for wearing your CGSU button.

Saturday from 4pm to 5:30pm at the Hasbrouck Community center, American Federation of Teachers President and Cornell University alumna Randi Weingarten will rally with Cornell graduate workers to get out the vote. Weingarten will speak at the CGSU event at Hasbrouck Community Center, highlighting the voices of grad employees with families, and the challenges faced by international grads, two days before our big vote begins!

See you there, see you at the polls, and see you at the negotiating table.

In solidarity,

Alana Staiti
PhD Candidate
Science & Technology Studies
Cornell University

Jaron Kent-Dobias: Why I'm voting yes for CGSU

Hello fellow grads,

My name is Jaron Kent-Dobias and I'm a Teaching Assistant and PhD Candidate in the Physics Department at Cornell. In many ways, the physics program treats its grads very well—we're relatively well-paid, extended opportunities for TAship as often as we'd like, and permitted to settle on an advisor with leisure. Because of these departmental benefits, many physicists don't think unionization will help them. I'm voting "yes" for unionization because I know they are wrong.

I'm voting "yes" because I want our benefits to be guaranteed by a contract. Cornell management claims it wants to extend us these benefits, so why not set them in stone? If all negotiation leads to is a contract guaranteeing what Cornell says they provide, we will have won something substantial. Cornell says they adjust stipends to maintain quality of life, but at best they miss the rapidly inflating mark and at worst they randomly cut our wages. Cornell says they want to support us when we're injured on the job, but instead fights to prevent us from getting workers' compensation benefits. We deserve more from our Departments and Cornell than niceties—we deserve legal assurance.

I'm voting "yes" because I believe my colleagues across Cornell deserve comparable treatment. Many physicists assume that our benefits are a Cornell default and are surprised to learn that even our colleagues in engineering fare far worse. Most departments limit opportunities to work as a TA to a few semesters or less, so when grants or adviser relations fall through there is no financial backing or visa extension. Most departments require grads to find a research adviser within a semester or two of arriving, with the threat of being dropped if no one takes them, and some departments intentionally over-admit with the expectation of dropping grads. Our peers deserve the kind of respectful and fair treatment that we enjoy.

I'm voting "yes" because even our treatment isn't good enough. The physics department does well in some ways, but tows the University line in others. I have friends in physics with horror stories about their attempts to navigate the University's inflexible yet inscrutable maternity and family support policy while administrators and in and above the department offered confusing and inconsistent information, or their experience with the chain of faculty, directors and deans that make up the early stages of our heavily faculty-biased grievance process. No physicist has a good option for dental insurance, or any option for vision. And we all are made to sign nonnegotiable agreements that strip us of any intellectual property rights for the products of our labor. We deserve more.

I'm voting "yes" because I want fair academic work after I graduate. After Cornell, I want to get a job teaching and doing research in academia. Universities of every sort rely more and more heavily on adjunct and contingent faculty for the bulk of their research and teaching labor. These positions are funded on a semester-by-semester basis, offer little to no track towards more permanent work, and fail to provide many standard employment benefits, like comprehensive health care or workers' compensation. Does this sound familiar? Today's postgraduates are increasingly given jobs cut from the mold of graduate ones. Participating in the national trend to improve graduate working conditions helps raise the floor for all positions subsequent. We deserve security and benefits today and tomorrow that match the highly skilled work we do, not whatever is most convenient for institutions.

These are a few among many compelling reasons to support unionization of graduate workers at Cornell. Detractors of our union ask questions about rising costs, decreased flexibility, and harm to advisor relationships. Fortunately, those questions have answers. The latest research on graduate unionization shows that graduate unions do increase stipends, that they correlate positively with "both the personal support and professional support dimensions of student-teacher relationships," and that the vast majority of faculty and grads at unionized institutions don't feel like their relationships were changed for the worse. Even the faculty who study labor relations at our own institution believe this. Scientists know that reason requires more than just asking questions—you must study the answers and correct your ideas accordingly. The consensus is real: graduate unionization at Cornell is to our benefit. That's why I'm voting "yes" on Monday, and you should too.


Jaron Kent-Dobias
Cornell Physics TA & PhD Candidate

Tonight: concert to get out the vote for our union!

Dear CGSU members,

Just a few more days until the election! Our Get Out the Vote Campaign doesn't just consist of friendly office visits and phone reminders about voting day on Monday and Tuesday. We are also hosting fun events and Q&A sessions today and tomorrow. We want to make sure you're fully informed and sufficiently hyped for next week and beyond!

Join us tonight at 9:30 for some great music and legit hanging out at Watermargin, 103 McGraw Place, for a Get Out the Vote concert! We've collaborated with Fanclub Collective for this event and we're really excited about it. See Facebook event for more info.

And tomorrow we'll be hosting a Q&A session to address any last-minute questions before next week's election: 3:30-5pm Mallott 253. Join us at the Big Red Barn afterward for cheap drinks and schmoozing. Extra points for wearing your CGSU button.

See you there, see you at the polls, see you at the negotiating table.

In solidarity,

Alana Staiti
PhD Candidate
Science & Technology Studies
Cornell University

Get Out the Vote with AFT President Randi Weingarten, Saturday 12-6!

It's time to Get Out the Vote with Randi Weingarten, Cornell Alum and President of the American Federation of Teachers!

On the weekend before our historic vote, join Randi and Cornell grads to get out the vote with two big events:

First: Talk to CGSU supporters who are ready to vote yes!

Join us for phonebanking, starting 12pm Saturday at the CGSU office, 4th floor, 401 E State St.

Then: a rally and celebration highlighting the voices of grads with families, from 4-5:30 pm Saturday at the Hasbrouck Community Center . Childcare and food provided, families welcome!

From now until you vote: check your polling location and organize your department or lab to get to the polls on Monday the 27th and Tuesday the 28th.

It's time to get out the vote!

Join us!

Jane Glaubman
5th year PhD student, English
and proud CGSU member since 2014

Philip Kear: Why I'm voting yes for CGSU

Dear Colleague,

My name is Philip Kear and I’m a graduate student in CALS. I’m not a US citizen or a Green Card holder; I’m in the US on a non-immigrant F1-visa holder that allows me to study and work at Cornell. I don’t intend to settle in the US; I just came to study. Together with me are my wife and two daughters, which are F2 holders. It is because I’m not an American citizen that I’m voting to form a union at Cornell on March 27! I’m asking that you join me!

Despite my mostly positive experience working as a graduate employee at Cornell I have struggled with the unrealistic burden of Cornell’s lack of affordable health insurance provision for dependents. Basic Cornell health insurance for a spouse and two children will cost my family approximately $8000 annually. Because of my wife’s visa status she is not allowed to work, making our family of four financial survival dependent on my assistantship. Ultimately, this has led to long periods without insurance. It’s actually cheaper for our family to seek medical treatment in another country than to pay the sky-high insurance fees at Cornell. Our ability to negotiate over the cost and quality of our healthcare will only come with forming a union and negotiating with Cornell. That’s why we must vote yes on March 27 and 28th. Join me!

I come from a country where health insurance costs are covered through taxes. Every person has access to the same coverage regardless of citizenship after 90 days in the country. I’m voting yes on March 27 to join a national union that invests resources in fighting for the preservation of and to improve healthcare in this country, as well as for the rights of those of us who are scholars from other countries. We chose to come to study at Cornell for a reason. That’s why I’m voting yes.

My story is not unique. I’ve talked to many other grad employees with stories similar to mine and the high cost of health insurance and how deeply it affects our family is why we’re voting for a union on March 27 and 28th.

Join us.

Philip Kear

Teaching Assistant, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick Stands With CGSU!

Mayor Svante Myrick has endorsed our union in its fight for recognition! You can find his letter here, or read the full text below.

March 21, 2017
To Whom it May Concern,

As mayor of the city of Ithaca, I respect the right of our employees to join together and represent their common interests, and I expect the same from Cornell, our biggest employer. Fair labor and employment conditions for grad workers can only make both our city and Cornell stronger and more cohesive. For these reasons, I support Cornell Graduate Students United (CGSU) and I'm endorsing a "yes" vote in support of democracy and workers' rights next week.

Svante Myrick, Mayor

How to vote yes for your union

Dear fellow graduate employees and qualified union voters:

There is a lot of confusing, at times conflicting information, about how and when we will vote yes for CGSU! Having seen the official notice, I wanted to make sure all voters know exactly how we can take this historic step together. We will receive an official polling assignment from AAA (American Arbitration Association), the neutral organization that will be administering our election. For your vote to be valid, you must vote at your assigned polling location.

We are assigned to specific polling places to ensure a clean election for over 2200 grad employees over two days. If you have any questions about your polling location or are confused about the process, please contact CGSU at: and we’ll be able to help.

To Vote:

Bring your Cornell ID card or a government issued photo ID card, such as your passport or drivers license to your assigned polling location.

For the Ithaca Campus:

On March 27th and 28th, polls will be open from 10:30am to 2:30pm and from 4pm to 10pm.You will be assigned to one of the following four polling locations.

  • G01 Biotechnology Building
  • B73 Warren Hall
  • Goldman Lounge, Duffield Hall
  • Former Temple of Zeus, Goldwin Smith Hall

Polling locations were assigned by fields of study (see the list at the end of this email to verify your fields’ voting location).  If you have any questions, do not hesitate to let us know at Geneva students will be assigned to vote in Ithaca unless a request is made to Jason Kahabka at by 5:00pm Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

For the Geneva Campus:

On the Geneva campus, voting will only take place on Tuesday, March 28 from 10:30am-2:30pm.

You will vote at:

  • Foyer, Barton Laboratory

Absentee Ballots:

You will be qualified to request an absentee ballot only if:

  • You are registered with Cornell for the current term as in absentia.
  • Registered and attending a conference or will be away from the Ithaca or Geneva campuses for work obligations related to your position as a teaching assistant or research assistant. Proof of conference registration or off-campus job assignment dated before March 6 is required.

If you qualify for an absentee ballot you must contact AAA immediately at 1-800-529-5218 or to request a ballot.

Ballots are required to be returned to AAA before 5pm on March 24, 2017.

Return your ballots to:

American Arbitration Association
120 Broadway, 21st Floor
New York, NY 10271

I can’t wait to vote yes for CGSU on March 27 and 28!

Join me,

Michaela Brangan
CGSU Administrative Liaison

Jane Glaubman
CGSU OC Member

Voting location by Field:

Biotech, Room G01
Biochemistry Molecular and Cell Biology
Biological and Environmental Engineering
Biomedical Engineering
Comparative Biomedical Sciences
Computational Biology
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Genetics Genomics and Development
Hotel Administration
Industrial and Labor Relations
Molecular and Integrative Physiology
Neurobiology and Behavior
Real Estate
Zoology and Wildlife Conservation

Warren Hall, B73
Animal Science
Applied Economics and Management
Atmospheric Science
Design and Environmental Analysis
Development Sociology
Environmental Toxicology
Fiber Science and Apparel Design
Food Science and Technology
Global Development
Human Development
Immunology and Infectious Disease
Landscape Architecture
Natural Resources
Plant Biology
Plant Breeding
Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology
Policy Analysis and Management
Public Affairs
Risk Analysis Communication and Policy
Soil and Crop Sciences

Duffield, Goldman Lounge
Aerospace Engineering
Applied Mathematics
Applied Physics
Chemical Engineering
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Computational Science and Engineering
Computer Science
Electrical and Computer Engineering
Film and Video Studies
Geological Sciences
Information Science
Materials Science and Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Operations Research and Information Engineering
Systems Engineering
Theatre Arts
Theoretical and Applied Mechanics

Goldwin Smith Hall, Former Temple of Zeus
Africana Studies
Asian Literature Religion and Culture
Astronomy and Space Sciences
Chemistry and Chemical Biology
City and Regional Planning
Comparative Literature
English Language and Literature
Germanic Studies
History of Art Archaeology and Visual Studies
Near Eastern Studies
Regional Science
Romance Studies
Science and Technology Studies
Urban Studies

Geneva Campus - Barton Lab Foyer
10:30am-2:30pm, Tuesday the 28th
By request to Jason Kahabka at

Information and procedures for negotiating committee constitutional amendment

Dear CGSU members,

As we’re working hard to do everything we can to vote “yes” & win our union recognition election on March 27 and 28, we’re also thinking about the future. Afterwards, the next step will be forming a negotiating committee to start bargaining with Cornell for improved wages and benefits. (See the CGSU website for election information).

While we move toward negotiations with Cornell, we can clarify from our side the mandate and make up of our negotiating committee and collective bargaining process. Members of the CGSU Legal Affairs Committee have drafted an amendment to this end regarding the creation of a negotiating committee for member consideration, as the CGSU Constitution does not yet have any language to address these issues. All CGSU members are invited to participate in this democratic process by either: i) providing comments and/or suggested improvements to the proposed amendment, or ii) proposing alternative negotiating committee amendments if they wish to do so.  More detailed information can be found in Art. III of the CGSU Constitution and on the Creating Our Negotiating Committee page on our website.

The primary goals of the current proposed amendment are:

  • To outline the composition of the negotiating committee,
  • To ensure that the negotiating committee, which will be comprised of CGSU members, is democratically elected by all members of CGSU,
  • To ensure that all schools and diverse graduate student bodies are represented within the negotiating committee, and
  • To ensure CGSU follows an “open-bargaining” process that promotes the participation of its members--having the right to be informed about and weigh in on the committee’s negotiations with the administration, and attend all negotiation meetings.

As of March 14, 2017, ten percent of the membership of CGSU has participated in the democratic process by signing a petition in favor of bringing this amendment forward for consideration by all members through the constitutional amendment process. Our hope is that this transparency and foresight ensures that our union will continue to embody our democratic principles, defined by the will of our membership, as we move toward negotiating our collective bargaining agreement with the university.  

In accordance with Article III of our Constitution, we are beginning a comment period for the proposed amendment which will allow all members to participate in open dialogue about potential amendments. All CGSU members are invited to provide comments, suggest improvements to the proposed amendment, and propose alternative negotiating committee amendments if they wish. To ensure our organizational resources remain focused on winning an election and to allow for the proposal of other amendments, the comment period will extend beyond the required 14-day minimum to April 24. Following the recognition election and after Spring Break, the Legal Affairs Committee will hold open meetings specifically to discuss all comments and suggestions regarding this proposed amendment, as well as other possible proposals.


3/15 – Comment period begins. All comments and suggestions regarding the proposed amendment should be sent to or can be presented during the open meetings that the Legal Affairs Committee will convene after Spring Break. Alternative amendments are encouraged, and can be proposed with either 10% of current membership support, or asking for direct Steering Committee approval (see Art. III). Please send completed proposal forms and any signatures to the Legal Affairs Committee and the Steering Committee

4/10 – To ensure a parallel discussion of all proposals, we encourage all additional negotiating committee amendments be submitted by this date.

4/24 – Comment period ends.

5/1 – Amendment sponsors finalize language after the deliberation period.  Legal Affairs compiles and circulates a voter guide to the membership based on pro/con statements and other comments received that members would like circulated to the membership to aid in deliberation.

5/3-5 – CGSU members vote in an online referendum.  2/3 of voting majority is required for an amendment to pass.

More detailed information can be found on the Creating Our Negotiating Committee page on the CGSU website, as well as in Art. III of the CGSU Constitution.

In additional union planning news, the CGSU Secretary is currently vacant, and all members are welcome to attend and participate in the election of a new Secretary at our Union’s next General Assembly. Secondly, in April all members will be invited to elect our CGSU Steering Committee (SC) for the 2017-2018 academic year. The first step is to establish an Election Committee.  See Article V of the CGSU Constitution for more detailed information on Steering Committee elections and email the Legal Affairs Committee ( if you are interested in serving on the Election Committee.  

Thank you for reading, and please feel free to contact the Legal Affairs Committee ( and/or Steering Committee ( should you require any assistance or have any questions.


Todd Dickey, Legal Affairs Committee Member
Paul Berry, Communications Committee and Organizing Committee member
Katryn Evinson, Legal Affairs Committee Member
Ben Savitzky, CGSU Member
Matthew Fischer-Daly, Legal Affairs Committee Member
Sena Aydin, Organizing Committee Chair
Marc Kohlbry, Legal Affairs Committee Member
Bret Leraul, Legal Affairs Committee Member
Archishman Raju, Legal Affairs Committee Member

Official Dates Decided for Union Recognition Election

Official Dates Decided for Union Recognition Election

The Union-Management Committee, Cornell, and the American Arbitration Association (AAA) have agreed that the vote should take place over two days: Monday March 27 and Tuesday March 28 from 10:30am – 2:30pm and 4pm -10pm. The votes will be in-person, at four convenient locations on the Ithaca campus: Room G01 in Biotech, B73 in Warren Hall, Goldman Lounge in Duffield, and in the former Temple of Zeus space in Goldwin Smith Hall.  One location on the Geneva campus will be open for a half-day of voting from 10:30am-2:30pm on Tuesday the 28th. Grads will be assigned to different polling sites based on their campus locations.