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Special Considerations for Cornell Students

Contents

  1. If graduate assistants vote in favor of union representation, can they vote for a strike or a work stoppage?  Will Cornell be able to lock out such students on Policy 1.3 assistantships and prevent them from working? 
  2. If the union representation election results in representation by CGSU/AFT/NYSUT, when could there be another representation election to consider removing the union?
  3. If eligible students vote against union representation, can there be another vote to reconsider union representation?
  4. If the union representation election results in representation by CGSU/AFT/NYSUT, what happens if the NLRB acts on another case in the future and changes its stance again, ruling that graduate assistants are not employees under federal labor law, or a court reaches that conclusion?  What happens to the contract and union at Cornell?
  5. Currently, how does the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) represent graduate student interests?
  6. How would a union affect the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and other aspects of Cornell’s model of shared governance?
  7. How would a union affect graduate student roles on department or graduate field or college/university committees?  For example, graduate students currently serve on the university-wide Student Health Plan Advisory Committee and serve as voting members on the General Committee, the legislative body of the Graduate School; would such opportunities for graduate students be affected with union representation?

1.  If graduate assistants vote in favor of union representation, can they vote for a strike or a work stoppage?  Will Cornell be able to lock out such students on Policy 1.3 assistantships and prevent them from working? 

If the union is recognized as the exclusive bargaining representative through an election process, it is unknown whether strikes, lockouts, or work stoppages will be authorized. Such provisions are typically included in the contract that is negotiated by the union and the employer after the election.  A contract may allow strikes, work stoppages, and lockouts, or the contract may include language preventing these activities. While the agreement (U-UCRREA) governing the union representation election process is in place, and up until the first of either an election or May 2017, the union will not engage in any authorized strike, work stoppage, slowdown, sympathy strike, or other interference with Cornell’s operations and Cornell agrees not to lock out students on assistantships.  However, what will happen after an election or after the agreement expires is unknown. 


2.  If the union representation election results in representation by CGSU/AFT/NYSUT, when could there be another representation election to consider removing the union?

Once a union is voted into place, it remains in that position indefinitely.  The process to decertify (remove) a union requires a new vote, and is a complex process that may take several years to complete.

The process to remove or decertify a union requires a vote similar to the election procedure to vote the union in.  Generally, a decertification vote cannot be held until one year after the union is voted in.  If a bargaining agreement is reached with the parties, no new election can occur for the life of that agreement or three years.

Until a union is decertified, it will continue to be the exclusive representative for all Ithaca and Geneva campus-based Graduate School students on Policy 1.3 assistantship appointments who will matriculate in the future, or who are continuing students shifting on to Policy 1.3 appointments from other appointments (e.g., fellowships).


3.  If eligible students vote against union representation, can there be another vote to reconsider union representation?

Yes, but there is usually a one-year waiting period after a union representation election is held until another election can be held within the same unit. 

If another election were to be held, the same union (CGSU/AFT/NYSUT) or a different union might be the subject of the union representation election.


4.  If the union representation election results in representation by CGSU/AFT/NYSUT, what happens if the NLRB acts on another case in the future and changes its stance again, ruling that graduate assistants are not employees under federal labor law, or a court reaches that conclusion?  What happens to the contract and union at Cornell?

If either the NLRB or a court rules that graduate assistants are not employees under federal labor law, Cornell may then choose to relate to graduate assistants as students rather than employees.  However, the University would continue to honor any collective bargaining agreement that was in place at the time, for the duration of the agreement.


5.  Currently, how does the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) represent graduate student interests?

Currently, the GPSA, which includes all Cornell graduate and professional students, not just those enrolled in the Graduate School or just those on certain appointments, has an effective working relationship with graduate/professional school leadership and the University administration as a whole. 

GPSA meets regularly and provides an opportunity for graduate/professional students across Cornell to share experiences and opportunities common to the graduate/professional student experience at Cornell. 

GPSA provides funding for a number of graduate/professional student social, cultural, and educational programs. 

In the past, the GPSA has worked collaboratively and successfully with Cornell for changes and improvements in various elements of the graduate student experience, including stipends, family services, child care grants, health and well-being, graduate student injuries, diversity, parking and transportation, and housing. 


6.  How would a union affect the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly (GPSA) and other aspects of Cornell’s model of shared governance?

It is unclear exactly what the role of the GPSA would be if some categories of graduate students are found to be “employees” under federal labor law.  It is also unclear at this point what role the GPSA could legally have if Cornell Policy 1.3 assistantship-holders elect CGSU/AFT/ NYSUT as their bargaining agent.  Many of the questions about the range of issues the GPSA will be able to address with the University administration can’t be answered until the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) ruling on the status of certain categories of graduate students as employees is fully interpreted and understood through experience, challenges, and decisions interpreting the scope of the ruling.

The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) prohibits employers from establishing or maintaining “employer dominated” committees or groups.  Such a group exists if, in situations where collective bargaining units have been recognized, management permits “employees” to participate in discussions that can be perceived as negotiating “terms and conditions of employment” outside of the normal union bargaining channels. 

We hope that the GPSA membership will continue to include all Cornell graduate/professional students.  We also hope that GPSA will continue to provide graduate/professional student participation and input on issues that are central to the graduate/professional student experience such as working with Cornell Real Estate on the new Maplewood graduate/professional student housing project or participation on the Student Health Plan Advisory Committee.


7.  How would a union affect graduate student roles on department or graduate field or college/university committees?  For example, graduate students currently serve on the university-wide Student Health Plan Advisory Committee and serve as voting members on the General Committee, the legislative body of the Graduate School; would such opportunities for graduate students be affected with union representation?

As noted above there are a lot of unknowns under the new NLRB ruling.  It is possible that these individuals, including Policy 1.3 assistantship holders, could continue their role on department, graduate field, or university-wide committees, with exceptions as needed to avoid the “employer dominated” committees described above that discuss issues that could be considered “terms and conditions of employment”; it is also possible that their participation on these committees could be collectively bargained or prohibited.  It is possible that if the labor union did not want students to be involved in these types of university governance because such student involvement diminishes some of the direct influence of the union, that the union could file an “unfair labor practice” against Cornell, leading to temporary or permanent suspension of student involvement in these shared governance opportunities.  It is our hope that GPSA and the department, field, Graduate School, and university-wide committees with graduate student members would continue to be part of the vibrant shared governance model at Cornell. 

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