ITHACA, N.Y. — Seeking to put pressure on Cornell’s administration, an organization calling for better working conditions for Cornell’s graduate students held multiple public events last week.
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The Cornell Graduate Students United (CGSU) is an organization formed about 18 months ago by graduate students seeking to better working conditions and to be treated as employees of the university.
There is currently a pending case in the National Labor Relations Board that will decide whether or not graduate students can be recognized as university employees. If it is decided that graduate students are employees, then that is one way CGSU, now affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, can gain a union status.
On Thursday, the organization held events at Cornell’s Ho Plaza and Olin Library. CGSU spokesperson James Ingoldsby said the purpose of the events was to reach out to the Cornell community and gather support for the unionization push.
Ingoldsby said there is a need for a union to represent graduate students who are serving as teaching and lab assistants. He added that many of those students rely heavily on their on-campus jobs to afford graduate school tuition and fees, but because graduate students are not regarded as employees there is very little job security.
“The work that graduate students to varies from program to program and the university has been using that to say, ‘Look, there’s too many different situations here and funding comes from too many different places,’” he said.
‘Most of us … consider ourselves graduate employees’
Ingoldsby, who is also a third year graduate student in the university’s English department, said he currently teaches a first year English seminar that requires about 20 hours work each week. He noted that because graduate students conduct a significant portion of the teaching and work considerable amount of hours, they should be recognized as employees by the university.
“It’s pretty apparent to us that most of us who are graduate students consider ourselves graduate employees but we are not considered as employees,” he said.
By not having the employee status, Ingoldsby said, the jobs graduate students have are subject to abrupt cancellations.
“Graduate students are pretty sure they have the next five years of their lives planned out and it’s not worth it if you don’t get the degree at the end. So suddenly if you don’t have a job, you’re able to make money next year and you have to leave the degree or take a leave of absence,” he said.
What will NLRB say about fate of grad students?
In 2004, the National Labor Relations Board ruled unfavorably for graduate students when it voted 3-2 to deny collective bargaining rights to graduate students, thereby not recognizing them as employees, on the grounds that their relationship with the university was primarily educational.
However, Ingoldsby said he and the group is more optimistic this time because other institutions such as Harvard University, Columbia University and the New School are pushing for collective bargaining rights for graduate students as well.
Until the NLRB decision comes in March, Ingoldsby said CGSU will be continuing to publicize itself and garner support from the Cornell community.
He also said the organization will be attempting to negotiate with university officials in hopes that the administration will give voluntary recognition of CGSU as a union instead going going through the NLRB.
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