Cornell Grad Students Will Be Allowed Vote to Unionize

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Cornell Graduate Students United have come to an agreement with Cornell’s administration that allows graduate students to campaign and host an election that would recognize CGSU as the graduate student union and representative in collective bargaining.

According to the agreement, graduate assistants would have the ability to make decisions as to whether or not to join the union in the event that federal policy sees a change.

A press release from the American Federation of Teachers notes that a reversal on the previous decision made on the matter is expected from the National Labor Relations Board in the coming months, reports Josh Girsky for The Cornell Daily Sun.

Under the agreement, graduate students who are enrolled in programs at the Ithaca or Geneva campus of Cornell would be allowed to unionize.  Those students would be required to work as teaching assistants, graduate research assistants, research assistants, or graduate assistants.

The agreement maintains that the AFT New York State United Teachers will form a partnership with CGSU.  The result could make Cornell one of very few private universities that offer graduate students collective bargaining rights.

However, the agreement does not come without controversy as universities across the country further define the role of graduate students.

While some argue that graduate students should be considered to be employed by the university because they teach classes and help professors in labs, not everyone agrees.  An amicus brief was signed by administrators from Cornell in March that was written by lawyers from Harvard University stating that graduate research and teaching positions are part of “a fully integrated educational experience,” and “the market value of any teaching services provided by doctoral candidates is not taken into consideration when determining stipends provided to students teaching during their graduate programs.”

The brief was signed by nine other universities.

At the same time, graduate students say that they are not given enough compensation for the work they provide the university as teaching assistants and research assistants, especially when the rising cost of tuition is accounted for.

CGSU member and negotiating team leader Michaela Brangan says the agreement, although hard to reach, will be worthwhile.

“It will provide our members with needed clarity and protections, and has the added benefit of fostering a mutually respectful relationship between Cornell and CGSU in the months and years to come,” she said in the release.

NYSUT President and AFT vice president Karen Magee was in agreement, saying that the work completed by graduate students should allow them to be recognized as employees.

“Without the valuable labor of its graduate employees, Cornell would struggle to fulfill its obligations to its students, the community and New York State,” she said in the release. “By setting out a clear and transparent election process, graduate employees are well on the way to being treated as higher education professionals.”