Will Cornell contest the election if the union wins?

Date: March 2017


Dear Deans,

After the Graduate Workers at Columbia University won their historic unionization election by over 900 votes in December 2016, Columbia administrators and their lawyers chose to challenge the results of their democratically decided election. Last week the regional NLRB rejected the Columbia management’s objections and recommended, “overruling the Employer’s objections in their entirely.” If Cornell Graduate Students United win our democratic Union recognition election later this month, will the Graduate School use legal tactics to challenge the results of our election?




Dear Concerned-About-Democracy-Grad,

Thanks for your Ask a Dean question. 

According to the Agreement between CGSU/AFT/NYSUT and Cornell signed in May 2016: “If a majority (50% +1) of the Graduate Assistants (TA, GRA, RA, GA) voting in an election conducted pursuant to the terms of this Agreement votes in favor of representation by the Union, Cornell immediately shall grant recognition to the Union as the exclusive bargaining representative of the unit with all of the rights and obligations of a union certified by the NLRB to the extent consistent with this Agreement.”

The Agreement also says “If there is any dispute regarding the eligibility of any individual voting in an election conducted pursuant to this Agreement, such dispute will be resolved by arbitrator Howard Edelman in accord with the terms of this Agreement. … If any dispute arises as to the results of an election conducted pursuant to this Agreement, such dispute will be resolved by the arbitrator, based on the terms of this Agreement. … Any hearing to resolve disputes under this Section shall be held within 10 calendar days of notice by one of the parties to the other, and will be limited to one day in duration, with the time evenly divided between the parties. A decision, order, and certification of election results shall issue within 14 calendar days of the hearing.”

And the Agreement goes on to say “This Agreement shall remain in effect for a period of one year, or expire when the Union is recognized as the exclusive collective bargaining representative through the election process referenced in Section 3 of this Agreement. The parties may renew or terminate this Agreement by mutual agreement. Notwithstanding any language in this Agreement, in the event of a decision by the NLRB or a court of highest competent jurisdiction finding that graduate teaching assistants and graduate research assistants are not employees under the NLRA, this Agreement will immediately terminate and shall have no further force or effect. Moreover, the parties agree that any collective bargaining agreement reached between the parties will be honored for the duration of the Agreement.”

Warm regards,


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