Cornell vote sets uncertain course

Following the defeat of a graduate student unionization proposal at Cornell University last week, graduate students at Yale and other U.S. schools are still uncertain what impact the vote will have on the movement as a whole.

By a greater than 2-to-1 ratio, Cornell graduate students voted against representation by the United Auto Workers in an election last Wednesday and Thursday.

The vote came amid a growing national movement to unionize graduate students at private universities, including Yale.

If the Cornell Association of Student Employees, or CASE, had won the majority vote, Cornell would have become only the second private university in the country to have a graduate student union. New York University became the first private institution to sign a contract with its TA union, following a landmark 2000 NLRB decision that declared that graduate students are employees and are eligible to form unions.

Graduate students at Brown and Columbia Universities have also held union elections, though results at those schools have been impounded pending appeals from university administrators. Graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania have filed to hold a union election, and organizing efforts are also ongoing at Harvard University.

At Yale, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization has been trying to form a graduate student union for more than 12 years but has not requested an election. GESO leaders have said that they are disappointed by the loss but have maintained that the situations at Cornell and Yale are different.

GESO chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said very few people at Yale argue that graduate students do not want a union.

“It’s not that graduate students don’t want unions, it’s that unions are hard,” Seth said. “[They] don’t happen overnight.”

Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said she could not predict the impact Cornell’s vote would have on Yale. Hockfield and other administrators have long argued against graduate student unionization.

“I wouldn’t say it was necessarily surprising,” Hockfield said. “I would characterize it as encouraging.”

Union organizers at other universities said the Cornell results would have limited effect on the movement, while anti-union students said the vote showed that the momentum to form unions is not as strong as organizers believe.

Jennifer Fronc, a member of the Graduate Student Employees United at Columbia, said she did not believe the Cornell TAs’ vote against unionization would affect efforts at Columbia.

“The fact that there is a national movement shows that graduate students want unionization,” Fronc said.

Amanda Holland-Minkley, a founding member of Cornell’s anti-unionization group At What Cost, said she believes the result will have an impact on organizing efforts at other private schools.

“On a more national scale, I think one thing [this vote] indicates is that a graduate student unionizing drive doesn’t necessarily mean there’s going to be a union,” she said.

Comments