How many of the signatures on the recent CGSU petition are eligible voters?

Date: March 2017


Dear Deans,

CGSU recently delivered a 50 foot banner to Day Hall with over 1,200 petition signatures. Does this mean that 1,200 graduate students have joined the union? I observed that CGSU openly allowed anyone to sign this petition at Big Red Barn during happy hour, so I imagine that there might be some duplicate signatures. From what I understand, not all graduate students will be allowed to vote in the upcoming election. Of these signatures on the petition, how many are eligible voters?


Observant Graduate Student


Dear Observant Graduate Student,

Thanks for your Ask a Dean question. 

As they held their banner outside Day Hall on Wednesday, March 8, CGSU/AFT/NYSUT delivered a file folder of petition sheets to Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Cornell, Mary Opperman. The file included 91 sheets of paper, 21 of which were duplicates of other sheets. On the 70 “unique” sheets there were also individual duplicate names scattered throughout the sheets. 

In total, 923 petition names are of currently-enrolled students in the Graduate School. Only a portion of those, however, about 710, are eligible voters, i.e., Ithaca and Geneva campus-based students enrolled in the Graduate School who hold the title of Teaching Assistant, Graduate Research Assistant, Graduate Assistant, or Research Assistant. There are about 2,200 eligible voters for Spring ‘17. 

Having a name on a petition or on an authorization card, of course, does not compel someone to vote in a union representation election, nor does it compel an eligible voter to vote “yes” or “no” regarding union representation. Conversely, eligible voters who have not signed a petition or authorization card may vote either “yes” or “no” regarding union representation. It is not possible to predict the election’s outcome based on the petition names.

That’s why it is very important for all eligible voters to exercise their right and responsibility to vote. Elections matter. Votes matter

The results of the recent Harvard graduate union representation election have not been determined yet, due to the uncertainty of the vote count; at Harvard, the initial count reported 1,272 students voted for unionization and 1,456 voted against, with 314 contested ballots to be resolved. 

At Duke, where the graduate employees withdrew their election petition after the mail ballot election occurred, the preliminary tally was 398 for and 691 against unionization, with some 500 challenged ballots yet to be determined – but they will not be counted because the graduate employees withdrew their election petition; unionization will not occur at Duke.

At Columbia, of 4,256 eligible voters,1,602 valid ballots were cast in favor of unionization, 623 were cast against, and 647 ballots were challenged. 

We hope every eligible voter will vote in the upcoming Cornell election.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School