FAQs

This page is intended to elaborate on information provided on CGSU’s FAQ page and provide a list of answers to questions we, At What Cost, have received.

CGSU’s Question: What about (union) dues?

CGSU’s Answer: Dues are what provide the financial resources to run the union. Dues appear as a small deduction from each paycheck. If you look at other grad locals around the country, dues typically run 1–2% of the annual stipend. However, the entire membership of CGSU will vote to set the exact dues rate, and payment of dues wouldn’t start until after our first contract kicks in. All members will vote on that contract, which we expect will achieve real material gains for grads at Cornell. No one would vote for a decrease in pay. That is not our aim.

Our Response: Dues paid to CGSU/NYSUT/AFT consist of two parts: the dues to NYSUT/AFT and our local dues. CGSU/NYSUT/AFT has released a dues schedule for only the NYSUT/AFT portion showing that most of us will owe $397.68 annually. Assuming around 2300 graduate students would be part of the union, over $900,000 of graduate student’s money would leave Cornell and not be under the discretion of CGSU.

CGSU will have to collect local dues to pay for our contract negotiations and day-to-day expenses. The $397.68 paid to NYSUT/AFT annually by each student is already 1.6% of the minimum stipend. CGSU states that our dues could be up to 2% of our annual stipend, making our total dues over $500 per year. In this scenario, CGSU receives only $100 out of every $500 contributed by each student.

nysut-aft-dues-schedule1


CGSU’s Question: I’m worried that my stipend will be cut to pay for others’ raises–will it?

CGSU’s Answer: Why would you vote to cut your own pay? We have people involved from a wide variety of fields such as Electrical Engineering, Physics, Biomedical Engineering, Anthropology and English. A democratic union like ours reflects the will of its membership, and no one is trying to pit some fields against others. This is about making improvements that benefit everyone and make it possible for us to do our best teaching and research work possible.

Our Response: For the last two years, graduate students have received an annual raise of at least 2%. Anticipating that the union will collect about 2% of our stipends in dues, we would need to negotiate around a 4% increase in the first contract year to match our current raises. A 4% raise would be greater than almost all of the raises negotiated in AFT’s existing graduate student contracts. Cornell’s stipend is already larger than most equivalent institutions, particularly when the data is normalized by cost of living.

stipend

The blue bars indicate the average reported graduate student stipend at each university. The red bars represent the average stipend normalized to Ithaca’s cost of living. Some schools have similar stipends; however, their cost of living is extremely high due to expensive housing. The bar graph reveals that Cornell’s graduate student stipends are within the top 25% of graduate student stipends when the data is normalized by cost of living. 


CGSU’s Question: What’s this election I’ve been hearing about?

CGSU’s Answer: Before a union can negotiate with administration and bargain a contract, it needs to be “recognized”. Cornell could have recognized CGSU on its own, but did not, instead calling for a “recognition election”. This is where graduate students in the bargaining unit get to vote YES or NO to being represented by CGSU as a union. If a majority vote YES, then the University has agreed to recognize CGSU as the union representing Cornell grads and begin bargaining a contract with us.

Our Response: Before CGSU/NYSUT/AFT can hold an election, they need to obtain signatures from at least 30% of the eligible graduate student voters. Once CGSU/NYSUT/AFT feels prepared for an election and meets the signature requirement, these signatures are submitted to AAA for review. If approved, the election is held. All TAs and RAs on assistantships are eligible to vote during the election. Signing a card does not commit a student to a YES vote. All eligible students, regardless of whether or not they signed a card, are able to vote YES or NO.


CGSU’s Question: I’m an international student. Can I join CGSU? Are there any problems I will face because I am on a visa?

CGSU’s Answer: As an international student you are afforded all of the protections American citizens have when it comes to organizing and unionizing. Your visa will not be jeopardized by being a CGSU member. As a union member, you’ll also be part of an organization that will stand with you if you face any issues at the University.

Our Response: As an international student, your visa status, now and in the future, will not be negatively affected by the unionization campaign or potential unionization of Cornell graduate students. We recognize that international students have a special set of needs that must be voiced and addressed at the University level. A good place to voice your concerns and get answers is the International Student and Scholars Office and the GPSA Diversity and International Committee.


CGSU’s Question: Why did the union subpoena my information?

CGSU’s Answer: We have an agreement with the administration that’s designed to ensure a smooth process over the coming months, and as part of that agreement, the administration agreed to release contact info so that we can reach out and talk to everyone who might be affected. The administration asked for the subpoena before they would release that information.

To make this a truly democratic process, we need to be sure we give every one of our fellow co-workers the opportunity to inform this process and tell us how they would like to improve working conditions at Cornell. The University already has the ability to contact all grad students to dissuade us from unionizing, we have the legal right to be afforded the same opportunity.

Our Response: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Cornell could not legally release your information to AFT/NYSUT/CGSU without the subpoena. AFT/NYSUT/CGSU is already using the information they obtained to make personal visits to graduate student’s homes and call student’s personal phone numbers. Some of the individuals making house calls are not Cornell graduate students, but rather paid AFT/NYSUT staff members.


CGSU’s Question: We already have GPSA (Graduate and Professional Student Assembly), so why would we need a union?

CGSU’s Answer: GPSA is an important part of Cornell’s shared governance system, and we’re not trying to replace that. But we think that concerns around our working conditions, benefits, and compensation are more appropriately addressed through a union, which has a stronger legal framework to negotiate and hold the administration accountable.

Additionally, there are many grads that seek support navigating Cornell’s grievance policies. Having a union assures that grads will have the representation they need to navigate this onerous process, while working to improve it and bargain a more just system of due process for grad workers at Cornell.

Our Response: Presently, ALL 6000+ graduate students have a voice with regard to Legislative Policies including annual stipends, through the GPSA. CGSU/NYSUT/AFT would only represent around 2300 TAs and RAs. For further information on existing avenues to effect changes in Cornell’s policies, and be heard – refer to the Student Governance page. Since the union would have sole bargaining power over TAs and RAs, GPSA would not be able to negotiate conditions, benefits, and wages for TAs and RAs.

As for grievance policies, if you compare Cornell’s grievance process to the process at other schools with AFT affiliation, you will find that they are similar in complexity. Moreover, graduate students serve an active role in Cornell’s arbitration panel. This is not true of other institutions with AFT affiliation.


CGSU’s Question: Why are there limits on faculty speech about grad unionization?

CGSU’s Answer: As Cornell grads organize, they are afforded the same rights as any other worker under the National Labor Relations Act, and under the CGSU-Cornell Agreement to choose a union freely, without interrogation, coercion, intimidation, or threats by management.

Our Response: Faculty members have been instructed not to initiate conversations with graduate students regarding the union. However, students can initiate conversations with faculty and directly ask them their opinion. Faculty and staff are then allowed to provide their opinions. Do not hesitate to start a conversation with members of the Cornell community. Further information can be found here in a letter to faculty and staff.


Our Question: Would the union only cover me when I’m working on campus?

Our Response: After student feedback in response to this site, we reached out to CGSU for a response to this question. To the best of our knowledge, unions can cover members of the bargaining unit wherever they doing their job. CGSU’s answer via email is posted below in direct, unedited form.

CGSU’s Answer: “The protections of a union contract would extend to grads wherever they are performing work in their capacity as a TA, RA, GA, or GRA. Some contracts also have additional provisions specifically covering work done in the field.”