UMC Voter Information for CGSU Referendum

Option One

File objections with the arbitrator to our March 2017 recognition election due to Cornell’s violations of federal law and Union–University Conduct Rules and Recognition Election Agreement (UUCRREA) during our vote.

Pros

  • By filing, we notify the public that Cornell University has violated its agreement with CGSU and federal law. By doing so, we offer an opportunity for CGSU, and the broader Cornell community, to communicate to the University that our community respects labor rights. We also build solidarity with graduate student workers across the country who are exercising their labor rights, by notifying them of potential tactics their universities may take and options for countering them.
  • If the arbitrator rules in our favor, the decision will provide a definitive ruling that the University violated its agreement with CGSU and federal law. As expressed by preeminent labor scholars at Cornell’s Industrial and Labor Relations School, a ruling in CGSU’s favor is likely.
  • Filing formal objections to clear labor law violations by our employer supports our bargaining power for future negotiations and enforcement of the strong union contract that we are working towards. By holding the University accountable for such violations, we convey that the union will use all options available to enforce commitments to graduate student workers. With this action, we perform an essential duty as a union: to ensure our employer respects our labor rights.
  • The arbitrator will most likely issue an order for a new recognition election with the arbitration decision, if the decision aligns with past precedent. Working with the arbitrator we will have flexibility over if, how, and when we seek recognition from the University, for example by holding a new recognition election. The arbitrator will ask CGSU and the University for the parties’ proposed dates for a new election, and will give preference to the proposal from CGSU if it is found that the union’s allegations have merit. If CGSU membership decides that the date set for a new recognition election is not desirable, CGSU may withdraw from scheduled election at any time prior to its commencement.

Cons

  • The arbitrator is the ultimate decision maker; therefore, there is a possibility of a ruling that does not uphold CGSU’s allegations. The consequence of such a decision would be the certification of the March 27–28, 2017 recognition election. After certification of that election, in which the vote count is not likely in CGSU’s favor, the UUCRREA would expire and we, graduate student workers, would continue to be covered by the National Labor Relations Act until current law changes.
  • The University has threatened to “document the union’s improper activities which included subjecting students to direct harassment, voter suppression, and illegal electioneering” if we file objections. CGSU has not been provided with any verbal or written support for these allegations.

Option Two

Do not file objections to our March 2017 recognition election and ask the arbitrator to rule on the validity of outstanding challenged ballots and then certify the election results.

Pros

  • Not filing objections is the quickest path to resolve the March 27–28, 2017 union recognition election. If the outcome of certification of that election is that CGSU lost, the Union would have the right to file for a new recognition election at the National Labor Relations Board after March 29, 2018 if current law has not changed by that time.
  • Possible mudslinging over possible AFT/CGSU misconduct during the elections is avoided in the current timeframe, allowing us to organize anew free of such public allegations.
  • Not signing another UUCRREA-type agreement gives us access to the NLRB for future University violations of federal law while we are still classified as employees under the NLRA. In addition it gives us the freedom to organize in any way we see fit, compliant with the NLRA, and allows the University to express anti-union sentiment, which in our experience has only served to bolster CGSU’s cause. To the extent that the UUCRREA sacrificed some of our legal rights as a union, we would regain those unless/until the NLRB changes current law.

Cons

  • Cornell University is not held accountable for violations of federal labor law and its agreement with CGSU. This conveys the message that CGSU is not standing up to Cornell’s behavior and cowering to the University’s threats to “document the union’s improper activities,” which aim to intimidate the Union into not filing objections.

Option Three

Accept the last settlement agreement offered by Cornell on August 16, 2017, which would need to be finalized by our AFT counsel and the University's counsel.

Pros

  • CGSU and Cornell University would extend this agreement to govern both parties’ behavior leading up to and during a new recognition election, so long as federal labor law does not change prior to a new election.

Cons

  • CGSU signing the proposed agreement gives Cornell University a green light from our union to cease to recognize our labor rights if, as expected, the National Labor Relations Board reverses its position that we are workers under the National Labor Relations Act.
  • Cornell University and CGSU would agree to a blackout period, that is, a 7-day pre-election “blackout period” for Cornell and CGSU. This means CGSU will not be permitted to communicate with union members during the critical 7-day period before a second recognition election.
  • Cornell is not ruled to have violated federal law and does not acknowledge that it engaged in such behavior.

UMC Recommendation

OPTION 1: File objections with the arbitrator to our March 2017 recognition election due to Cornell’s violations of federal law and Union–University Conduct Rules and Recognition Election Agreement (UUCRREA) during our vote.

The UMC unanimously recommends Option 1. We all think this is the best way forward for CGSU because it 1) does not give Cornell permission to ignore our labor rights if the new Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board reverses our rights to be considered employees under the National Labor Relations Act and 2) shows that the Union will stand up for its members when it is clear the University violated federal law.

Our original May 2016 code of conduct agreement with Cornell (UUCRREA) was signed during the Obama administration when neither CGSU nor the University expected a president hostile to labor rights would be elected. Due to the very different political climate in which we found ourselves negotiating with Cornell in 2017, the UMC set a negotiation bottom line that any settlement agreement with Cornell we believed would be worth signing would guarantee our rights to have a union recognition election and negotiate a first collective bargaining agreement with the University no matter what happens with federal labor policy regarding graduate employees at the National Labor Relations Board. This, in our eyes, would be necessary for Cornell to show that it truly wanted to have a fresh start after it committed multiple violations of federal law during our vote. (Details regarding these violations may be found in an explanatory letter to the editor from the ILR Faculty published in the Sun in April.) Unfortunately, during negotiations, Cornell refused to agree to guarantee our labor rights. The UMC believes that Cornell’s guarantee to recognize our labor rights would be essential for CGSU to drop charges that Cornell violated federal labor law and to avoid a finding from the arbitrator that Cornell broke the law. Accepting this settlement agreement offer from Cornell would mean that CGSU would signal its permission and acceptance of Cornell not continuing to recognize us as workers if the Trump-NLRB changes current law. We believe this would be completely unacceptable.

An essential role of a union is to defend workers when their employer violates federal law. We believe that Cornell not only violated federal labor law, but also the code of conduct agreement that it signed with CGSU. Since the University would not agree to an adequate settlement that protects our rights as workers, we recommend that CGSU hold Cornell University accountable by taking it to arbitration, where the Union will be able to present its evidence and legal arguments for how Cornell broke the law, and a neutral third-party arbitrator will rule on the case. If CGSU’s claims are found to have merit, the arbitrator will work with CGSU to schedule a new recognition election at an appropriate date that works for the union. CGSU will always be able to withdraw from the election at a later date if circumstances at the time warrant.

The settlement proposal from Cornell we present to you is unacceptable to us based on the reason described above (among others). Certifying the election results (Option 2) does not let the Union hold Cornell accountable for multiple violations of federal law. We therefore strongly and unanimously encourage members to vote for Option 1: file objections. We look forward to a union-wide conversation regarding these important issues and strategic considerations, and welcome any and all questions, comments, and feedback. Our email is cgsu-umc@googlegroups.com.