ITHACA, N.Y. – In a ruling on Wednesday, an arbitrator found that Cornell University violated the National Labor Relations Act during a union election for Cornell Graduate Students United last year.
Arbitrator Howard C. Edelman from the American Arbitration Association ruled that the violation originated in an email sent from Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, Barbara Knuth, the night before the election on March 26, 2017. Though Edelman found the email was in violation, it was not enough to warrant a new election for the union.
According to the decision, Knuth emailed assistants a special edition of her “Ask the Dean” column less than 24 hours before the election.
“All of these funds (external grants, and department and college budgets) are limited. It is possible that significantly increased cost could lead to reduced numbers of graduate students at Cornell due to wages and benefits negotiated by CGSU,” Knuth wrote in her email.
According to a press release from The American Federation of Teachers, the union CGSU is affiliated with, said the email was an “alarming threat for graduate students concerned with their job security.”
The election was held on March 27 and 28, 2017, where the votes came in with 856 for the union, 919 against and 65 challenged ballots and 16 unresolved ballots. The results of the challenged ballots have not been released.
CGSU may file a petition for a new election within 12 months of certification of the March 2017 election. School officials, however, say the votes so far sway against unionization.
“More than 80 percent of eligible Cornell graduate assistants participated in that election supervised by the American Arbitration Association, with the majority voting against unionization,” said Vice President for University Relations Joel M. Malina. “A handful of ballots remained uncounted pending the outcome of this decision, and we are confident their inclusion now will reaffirm the original result.”
While several students have expressed discouragement with the state of labor relations at the university, some found hope in Wednesday’s results.
“I feel relieved that we have a path forward for how to resolve last year’s election,” said Aubrie James, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology. “We are working so hard in organizing for labor rights at Cornell, and this decision is another thrust forward in those efforts. I also feel energized by the unionization movements of grads like us across the country.”
The union filed two additional charges regarding emails sent by Knuth on March 27, in regards to a reduction in health care premiums for teachers assistants and also suggesting that CGSU representatives were engaged in voter intimidation. Neither of the emails were found in violation of the NLRA.
“We understand that this issue has created divisions within our graduate student community, whose daily contributions to Cornell’s teaching, research and engagement mission cannot be overstated,” Malina said in a news release. “(We) agree with the arbitrator that it is time to certify the results of the election so we can move forward together and continue our collective work to strengthen graduate education at Cornell.”
As a result of the desicion, Cornell will be required to post a notice of the violation. According to the decision, Edelman will assist the university and the union in arranging the wording the notice and where it will be posted.