Election Process and Status
- Who decides which union would represent graduate assistants?
- What is the Union-University Conduct Rules and Recognition Election Agreement (U-UCRREA) between Cornell and CGSU/AFT/NYSUT?
- How would an election process work and what is the timeline?
- What are “authorization cards” and how are they used?
- If I sign an authorization card and a union representation election is held, do I have to vote in favor of the union?
- If I don’t sign an authorization card, can I still vote in an election?
1. Who decides which union would represent graduate assistants?
Typically, a group of workers seeking union representation will affiliate with an established labor union, such as the Teamsters, the American Federation of Teachers, or the United Auto Workers, for purposes of organizing a new chapter, and then participate in a union representation election. Cornell Graduate Students United (CGSU) chose to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers (AFT/NYSUT).
2. What is the Union-University Conduct Rules and Recognition Election Agreement (U-UCRREA) between Cornell and AFT/NYSUT/CGSU?
Cornell and the CGSU/AFT/NYSUT reached an agreement (U-UCRREA) governing how an election would be conducted if federal labor law changed, as it did on August 23, 2016 with the NLRB decision in Columbia University. The agreement is not recognition of a graduate assistant union; rather, it is a guide to behaviors for all parties, based on the principle of fostering an open and respectful environment in which graduate students are free to learn about the labor union and reach an informed decision should there be an opportunity for them to participate in a union representation election. The U-UCRREA covers which students would be part of a potential bargaining unit, an agreed upon process for conducting an election if sufficient signed authorization cards are produced by the union, and a blueprint for respectful conduct between Cornell and CGSU/AFT/NYSUT during the union’s campaign.
Under the U-UCRREA, the potential bargaining unit would include all Ithaca and Geneva campus-based graduate students enrolled in the Graduate School who hold appointments under University Policy 1.3 as teaching assistants, graduate assistants, research assistants, and graduate research assistants.
3. How would an election process work and what is the timeline?
- CGSU/AFT/NYSUT is asking eligible graduate students to sign cards (electronic and hard copy) authorizing the union as their exclusive bargaining representative for terms and conditions of employment as graduate assistants.
- CGSU/AFT/NYSUT must produce signed and valid authorization cards from at least 30% of the graduate assistants who would be eligible to vote in order for an election to be held.
- A secret ballot election conducted by the American Arbitration Association and held on Cornell’s campus would be conducted about two-to-three weeks after the 30% of authorization cards was determined to be valid. To maximize voter turnout, any official Cornell break or finals examination period would not be appropriate times for an election.
4. What are “authorization cards” and how are they used?
An authorization card drive is one of the first steps toward establishing a union to represent members of a collective bargaining unit. Paid union organizers or interested graduate students will ask graduate assistants in the potential bargaining unit to sign a card authorizing the union to act as their exclusive representative for purposes of negotiating the terms and conditions of employment as graduate assistants. Graduate students have the legal right to sign, or refuse to sign, authorization cards without pressure or coercion from anyone.
Authorization cards are legally binding documents signed by individual graduate assistants indicating their interest in a specific union to become their exclusive representative for purposes of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment as graduate assistants. Signing a card legally authorizes the organizing group (CGSU/AFT/NYSUT) to act as the signer’s sole agent in seeking an election to establish a labor union, but the act of signing an authorization card does not commit the signer to vote in any particular way if a union representation election occurs. Signing an authorization card is like signing a petition to request that a union representation election be held.
The U-UCRREA between Cornell and the CGSU/AFT/NYSUT has a provision that if the union secures signed authorization cards from at least 30% of the individuals within the defined bargaining unit and presents those cards to the American Arbitration Association to determine their validity, an election process will begin.
5. If I sign an authorization card and a union representation election is held, do I have to vote in favor of the union?
No, the act of signing an authorization card does not commit the signer to vote in any particular way in a union representation election. The signer is free to vote in an election either for or against union representation.
6. If I don’t sign an authorization card, can I still vote in an election?
Yes, if you are an eligible voter. A graduate assistant does not need to sign an authorization card to be eligible to vote in a union representation election. Signing – or not signing – an authorization card does not influence your ability to participate in the election, and does not compel you to vote in any particular manner.
All eligible voters will be free to vote however they want, regardless of whether they previously signed an authorization card or not. Graduate assistants who did not sign an authorization card may vote “yes” or “no” on the question of union representation; similarly, a graduate assistant who signed an authorization card may also vote “yes” or “no”.
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