New Stuff!

Looking for the University of Minnesota organization of the same name? Look no further.

Looking for the Yale organization of the same name? Look no further.

Looking for the Penn State organization of the same name? Look no further.

At What Cost? releases a post-election statement.

UNION DEFEATED! By a vote of 1351 against to 580 for, the CASE/UAW unionization proposal was overwhelmingly defeated!

Curious what type of information CASE/UAW tracks from all of those visits to your office or lab? Check out this copy of a departmental profile (names removed to protect the innocent). Do you know what your profile entry says?

If you wish to be removed from our grads@atwhatcost.org list, send a (blank) Email to grads-unsubscribe@atwhatcost.org and reply to the confirmation message which you receive.

Please do not remove any CASE/UAW posters from bulletin boards or cover them with At What Cost? posters.

The official list of eligible voters has been prepared and distributed to all Graduate Field Coordinators. Many students who believed they would not be eligible to vote have found that they in fact are; we encourage everyone to check their status with their department.

The GPSA has worked with CASE/UAW, the administration, and At What Cost? to put together an online debate. Have a look!

More new Posters as of October 14!

Can you handle the truth?

New articles and information sources linked from the Articles page.

Want to stay informed with the latest news and announcements about At What Cost? Click here.

Why Are You Opposed To The Union At Cornell?

Let us count the ways...

Unanswered Questions

The union has repeatedly refused to answer many important questions which could impact student's votes. How will the resulting union be organized? What will the constitution be? Will union representatives be elected from every field? From every school? Will the union be structured as an union shop, an agency shop, or an open shop?

These are all questions which can greatly impact the desirability of a union. The union replies that these issues can not be voted on until after a union is voted into place, but why haven't proposals been presented? How can we be asked to vote for a union without an opportunity to read and debate its constitution? We encourage you to ask these questions yourself, and let us know what answers you get.

For What?

The union website lists three issues that the union will address: pay, health care coverage, and grievance procedure.

Pay: The union likes to brag that students at other schools have gotten a pay increase in excess of union dues, but Cornell already increases graduate pay every year by more than this amount. Furthermore, the union will probably work primarily to raise minimum salaries; unless you are actually earning the minimum, this is unlikely to benefit you. In fact, it may actually hurt you as the cost of increases in the minimum salary may be offset by a reduction in the usual cost-of-living increases provided to all graduate students.

In addition, the CASE/UAW website makes the following claim:

"The current minimum salary at Cornell for fully-funded graduate employees is $13,185, which is below the 'living wage for Tompkins County' as calculated by Alternatives Credit Union."

The living wage to which they refer (study available here) is $17,540.39. That's a 12 month wage, though, for a monthly wage of $1461.70. The fully-funded graduate student wage is the amount paid for Fall and Spring semesters (9 months). $13,185/9 = $1465 per month.

Health Care Coverage: CASE/UAW has pledged to pursue paid or subsidized health care coverage for spouses and dependents of graduate students. While said health insurance for spouses and dependents is expensive, having the student's insurance completely paid by Cornell is a pretty sweet deal. And it's a deal that came through years of work between the student government association and the administration. It seems unlikely that the union will do significantly better, and the more adversarial relationship which traditionally prevails between the union and "management" seems likely to poison the whole relationship between the administration and graduate students.

Grievance Procedure: The CASE/UAW website says, "At Cornell, there is an uneven array of grievance procedures available to students and the resolution of disputes is at the discretion of the administration." The university has established guidelines for assistantships which specify that the basic assistantship (TA, RA, and GRA) is for 15 hours of work per week for 9 months. (This guideline appears in the Guide to Graduate Study.) If these guidelines (or others related to graduate study) are violated, the Code of Legislation of the Graduate Faculty already incorporates, by reference, a grievance procedure which appears in the Guide to Graduate Study. (Regretably, the Guide to Graduate Study does not seem to be available online. It can be obtained at the Graduate School in Caldwell Hall.)

This document lays out a step-by-step procedure that a student should follow for grievances on issues relating to graduate education and support. The ultimate authority in this grievance procedure is not the administration; the final stage of the grievance procedure is referal to the Graduate Grievance Review Board (GGRB), which consists of graduate students and faculty and is overseen by the University Ombudsman. The Office of the University Ombudsman is "independent of all existing administrative structures" and has extremely wide lattitude in assuring that all members of the university community are afforded due process and are treated fairly. The Graduate Grievance Review Board does pass their final recommendation to the Provost for "final resolution." We contacted the provost regarding the nature of her involvement in this procedure; she, in turn, contacted Walter Cohen. During the past nine and a half years (during which time Walter Cohen has served as Dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost), the Provost has never reversed a decision of the GGRB; the role of the provost in the procedure is almost purely executive. (In one instance, the provost upheld the primary ruling of the GGRB, but rejected one of their additional recommendations.) Thus far, we have seen no evidence that the current grievance procedure requires replacement.

Economics

How will additional wages and new benefits be paid for? It's a question that, as far as we can tell, CASE/UAW hasn't even considered. Economics gives us some hints, though.

First, when the price of hiring graduate assistants increases, the university will hire fewer. That's simple freshman economics. Some classes won't get TAs and some RA jobs will go to postdocs. For fields where graduate students are primarily supported by assistantships, this will likely mean fewer funded graduate students. With fewer funded slots available, a graduate education at Cornell will become even harder for economically disadvantaged students to obtain.

Second, the only reliable means the university has of raising additional funds is increasing undergraduate tuition. If more money is spent on graduate students, then an Ivy League education, already a luxury for all but the wealthiest families, moves further out of reach of the lower and middle classes.

Third, Cornell's stipends are already approximately equal to those paid to graduate students at peer institutions, despite the fact that many of those peer institutions are located in areas where the cost of living is much higher than it is in Ithaca. It seems unlikely to us that CASE/UAW can negotiate a package which is leaps and bounds above those offered by peer institutions.

On a similar note, recent research by Professor Ronald Ehrenberg and students found the following:

Taken together the findings above suggest that the impact of graduate assistant unions on economic outcomes does not appear to be very large...

Professor Ehrenberg's point is that administrative concerns about graduate unions drastically increasing costs may be unfounded; the same results, however, also show that the impact of a graduate student union on graduate students stipends is likely to be small. The title of the paper from which this quote was taken is "Collective Bargaining in Higher Education" and a link to the full text can be found here. The primary promise of CASE/UAW organizers has been that they will increase stipends. The evidence to support this claim is scant, at best.

Dues

With a union, approximately 1.15% of the graduate stipend will go to the union. That is, for every $10,000 you receive for teaching or research, $115 will go to the union. We'd prefer to keep our money, thanks.

Those dues will go to support the UAW's politics, which are often in conflict with those of many graduate students. For instance, the UAW regularly opposes the issuance of work permits to foreign nationals. This is an issue that impacts many international graduate students; for their stipend dollars to go to support these politics is absurd.

Another example is the UAW's opposition to provisions that would protect the environment, such as the Kyoto protocols or the tightening of CAFE standards. The UAW's position statement on these two issues is shrouded with spin, but it's easy to read between the lines. "We cannot accept demands for excessive increases in CAFE standards that would jeopardize the jobs of UAW members." Read the positions from the UAW itself here and here. Many graduate students at Cornell are concerned about environmental issues, and it does not make much sense for our stipend dollars to be used to support these politics either.

The UAW

The UAW's relationship with previously formed graduate student unions has been poor. The UAW wrested control of the union from graduate students at UMass Amherst, placing said union under an administratorship. This administratorship continued for over a year, in violation of the UAW constitution, which only allows administratorships to last 6 months. There were similar conflicts between the elected graduate representatives of the union at University of California Santa Barbara and UAW officials.

Striking and Amalgamation

Part of a union's power comes from the threat of its membership striking; a union which refuses to strike has no power. For RAs, a strike could hold back their research, prevent them from meeting conference deadlines, and potentially add to how long it will take to complete their degrees. For the many TAs who are employed by their advisor or other research colleagues, a refusal to work could be professionally damaging.

Furthermore, there is a distinct possibility that our unit would join with the UAW Local 2300 as an amalgamated union. While negotiations would be performed entirely separately, if amalgamated, the half of our dues which were not sent to the national organization of the UAW would be added to the local pool rather than kept specifically for graduate student activism, and graduate students could be required to go on "sympathy strikes" if one of the 12 units already in Local 2300 voted to strike.

An example of an amalgamated union is Local 2322, which includes graduate students at UMass. This amalgamation itself seems to have been the source of some of the problems at UMass which resulted in the administratorship. (See the section above on the UAW.)

Academic and Employment Issues Intertwined

Academic and employment issues are hopelessly entangled in graduate school. The union can by law only address employment concerns, but failing to address these two aspects of graduate life concurrently is a project doomed to failure. Stripped of its power to address "employment" issues, the student government seems unlikely to be able to act effectively, either.

Lack of Openness and Representation

Many students, particularly in the hard sciences and engineering, have felt that the unionization process has been closed and secretive. Not all fields, or even colleges, have received the same attention and flow of information from CASE/UAW, though graduate students in all fields will be equally bound by union negotiations and regulations.

Contrary to what is implied by the union, this has not been a "grass roots" movement to unionize at Cornell. It began with strong roots in Industrial and Labor Relations and only reached out to the entire graduate community after affiliating with the United Auto Workers. Union organizers sometimes avoided making their case in front of large groups of students to prevent neutral students from hearing others' questions. (This closely paraphrases the reason that one of the organizers gave one of us for refusing to be more open.) Instead, organizers went door to door with two union organizers meeting with one student. We definitely felt pressured to sign a card; other students we talked to agree. In addition, some students were deceived as to the nature of the union cards the signed, believing them to support holding an election rather than support forming a union. Furthermore, since at least last fall, several union organizers have been on the payroll of the UAW; as such, they are hardly disinterested student advocates.

Note that we are not claiming that CASE/UAW has not held meetings in many fields; they have, and the frequency of those meetings seems to be increasing. Nevertheless, CASE/UAW is asking to represent graduate students in vital negotiations in the future, a task requiring broad, effective communication with the graduate community and a clear measure of their concerns and priorities. We feel their approach to information distribution and persuasive techniques over the past year may be predictive of behavior to come if a union is voted in.

Here's a link to the CASE/UAW website. We look forward to their linking back. Check out their website, get the other side of the story, and make an informed choice.

Permanence

A union is forever; the process required to decertify a union is just as difficult as the initial creation of a union without the financial backing of the UAW or any other organization. (The university could not legally support a decertification drive of its own employees in any meaningful way.) Creating a union is a measure of last resort when nothing else gets a response. As long as our current concerns are being heard and acted upon via the systems that are already in place, why form a union? It's a bureaucracy which will require care and feeding from now on. This isn't just about here and now; we must also think of the future. When it can be shown that there are concerns that (1) are not being addressed in the current system and (2) can be effectively addressed by a union, then we'll be on board.

Who Are You?

We are a volunteer group of graduate students who are concerned about the current effort by the CASE/UAW to unionize graduate students at Cornell. We are not opposed to unionization, even of graduate students, on principle. We are opposed to the unionization effort as it has been executed at Cornell; our reasons for this opposition are detailed above. Our group is not affiliated in any way with Cornell University, other than by the fact that we are Cornell students.

If you would like to find out ways that you can get involved or if you would like to join our supporters email list, click here and/or Email us. Any questions can be directed to awc@atwhatcost.org.

What about your name?

"At What Cost?" is also the name of a similar group at Brown University. While we have no affiliation with the Brown group our goals are similar. We liked the name because, like us, it is not strictly anti-union. It simply expresses our concerns about the current unionization proposal and process. The name is used by permission of the group at Brown; you can view their website here.

How are you supported?

Funds to establish this website and print flyers have been donated by our individual members. We are no longer accepting donations from individuals who would like to help in our cause. A record of money and gifts-in-kind donated and how it was spent is available on this site.