On approximately September 10, CASE/UAW posted a page on their website called "Myths and Facts" where they proport to answer some of the concerns about unionization. While their answers are, in most cases, factually correct, they don't really tell you the whole story. Their "myths" are largely mischaracterizations of concerns that we have raised. On this page, we'll quote "myths" and "facts" directly from their website, and then we'll respond.
Myths, Facts, and The Truth
CASE/UAW "Myth": TAs and RAs are students, not workers.
CASE/UAW "Fact": We provide work to Cornell in return for compensation, thus we are employees by any reasonable definition. Graduate students who serve as TAs, RAs, GRAs and GAs are both students and workers. We perform a significant amount of the teaching and research at Cornell that makes this university a world-class institution.
The Truth: Graduate students may be employees, in the sense that they work for Cornell in return for compensation, but as recipients of degrees they are clearly also students. In many cases, the work performed as an employee and the work performed as a student cannot be easily distinguished. For instance, many RAs and GRAs "work" on their dissertation research with incidental or no service expectations placed on them by the university.
CASE/UAW "Myth": Union dues will outweigh benefits.
CASE/UAW "Fact": This would never happen because we vote on our contracts before they go into effect and we would never vote to reduce our wages and benefits. Significant wage increases are a staple of graduate student union contracts (e.g. this Spring, most NYU graduate students won 38% wage increases over the life of the contract). Dues will be at most 1.15% of our salary and we vote on whether dues are voluntary or not. We do not pay union dues until we have our first contract and to date all student employee contracts negotiated by UAW local unions have more than compensated for dues.
The Truth: CASE/UAW cannot guarantee what contract they will be able to negotiate. Though it does seem likely that the minimum wage will increase by more than union dues, this would not protect graduate students currently making more than the minimum from seeing a reduction of real wages. At NYU, students above the minimum saw increases of only 3.5% per year; after union dues of approximately 1%, this is significantly smaller than the 4% increase which has been customary in Cornell stipends (though stipends only increased by 2% the last two years, to compensate for the cost of providing health insurance).
The claim that we would vote on whether dues are voluntary or not (i.e. what type of shop we are) is extremely misleading. Every UAW graduate student union created so far is an agency shop, in which all graduate students in the unit are required to pay some fee to the union, and the UAW has put strong pressure on other schools to vote in an agency or union shop. Contract votes are simply yes/no, we will not be able to approve only parts of a contract put before us by the bargaining committee. Furthermore, contracts must be approved by the international union; you can be sure that their interests will be served by any approved contract.
CASE/UAW "Myth": A union will result in a leveling of stipends.
CASE/UAW "Fact": Every graduate student contract to date has featured across-the-board wage increases, not leveling. Contracts, which deal with stipends, must be voted on by us. The across-the-board wage increase is a staple of graduate student union contracts because it benefits all student employees, regardless of the original level of their pay.
The Truth: It is possible a CASE/UAW union will achieve across the board wage increases, though, as mentioned above, they cannot guarantee anything and an across the board increase of at least 5% (Cornell's customary 4% increase + approximately 1% union dues) would be required to increase the real wages of all Cornell students. Additionally, Cornell stipends are already higher than at many unionized schools after compensating for cost-of-living. According to one salary calculator, $13,185 (the minimum Cornell stipend) in Ithaca corresponds to $19,328 in NYC/Manhattan; the UAW union negotiated NYU contract sents the minimum graduate student stipend for the 2004-2005 school year at $18,000 - still below what we make now when adjusted for cost of living!
CASE/UAW "Myth": A union will damage my relationship with my advisor.
CASE/UAW "Fact": In a survey of professors at universities with student employee unions, a Tufts University researcher found that 9 out of 10 professors said that the union did not affect their relationships with their students. Here at Cornell, over 230 professors have signed a statement supporting our legal right to unionize and encouraging the administration to do the same.
The Truth: If 1 out of 10 professors said a union affected their relationships with their students and if the same ratio held at Cornell then approximately 10% of the students in the unit would find their relationships with their advisors negatively impacted to some degree. That's more than 200 students! Additionally, only professors were surveyed in this study; graduate students were not asked for their perceptions.
CASE/UAW "Myth": A third party will bargain on our behalf.
CASE/UAW "Fact": There is no third party. Union tasks, from contract negotiations to day-to-day administration, are performed by elected graduate students. We will elect a bargaining team from our own ranks. We will vote to accept or reject on the contract that they negotiate. The advantage of being part of a larger union is that we get access to considerable legal resources, research help, and experience of the union, but ultimately the decisions we face are made by all of us. Simply put, we are the union.
The Truth: There is a third party, and it's called the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW). The constitution of the UAW makes it clear that local unions are subordinate to the national union and subject to its rules and requirements. The executive board of the UAW can vote to reorganize or disband a local union, suspend its officers and call for elected replacecments, or even take over supervision of the local union (see Article 12, particularly Section 3) At two of the 13 UAW graduate student unions (UMass Amherst and UC Santa Barbara), the UAW has used this article to take over the local union and proceeded with contract negotiations without the input of elected graduate student representatives.
Beyond the threat of an administratorship, the executive board also has to approve any contract which we negotiate, and has the right to reject it. According to the UAW constition, Article 19, Section 3: "Should the proposed contract or supplement be approved by a majority vote of the Local Union or unit members so participating, it shall be referred to the Regional Director for his/her recommendation to the International Executive Board for its approval or rejection." Finally, the executive board of the UAW must approve any request to strike, and can call off a strike at any time.
CASE/UAW "Myth": The union will negatively affect international studentsí visa status.
CASE/UAW "Fact": International students have the same legal rights to join labor unions as U.S. citizens, no matter what their visa status. Having a union for TAs and RAs does not affect the visa status for any student worker. For more information, please visit our International Students Information Page.
The Truth: International students do not have their current visa status affected by joining a union. However, international students should judge for themselves whether the UAW lobbying campaign against expanding the H1-B visa program hurts their potential to acquire a visa after graduation, or the potential visa status of spouses, relatives, or friends who may wish to enter the United States as well.
CASE/UAW "Myth": The UAW opposes work visas for international workers.
CASE/UAW "Fact": The UAWís policy on work visas is strongly supportive of international workers. The UAW has fought hard against legislation proposed after September 11th aimed at placing a six-month freeze on international studentsí visas from all countries, and a complete ban on these visas from several countries. The union at the University of California (UAW, Local 2865) organized a grass roots campaign and wrote over 2,000 letters in opposition to this unfair legislation. Their efforts, coupled with the UAW International Unionís political pressure in Washington, DC, helped defeat this bill. Two years ago, the UAW, along with many professional associations including the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE), opposed the expansion of the H-1B visa program unless key reforms were incorporated. Currently, H-1B visa holders are only permitted to hold a particular job at a single firm. As a result, they are often paid less than American workers doing the same job. If fired, they face deportation if they are unable to find new employment within 45 days. The UAW advocated for the removal of the strict single employer rules so that H-1B holders could change jobs more freely and enjoy the same rights as U.S. workers. Additionally, the UAW supports the expansion of nonexploitative visa programs such as green cards. For further details, click here.
The Truth: The UAW website says that the UAW "opposed the expansion of the H1B program." The UAW has a clear history of working on an American jobs for American workers platform. While the UAW claims to oppose H1-B visas because green cards provide superior rights for foreign workers, green cards are much more difficult to obtain, and many use the H1-B visa as a stepping stone to a green card.
CASE/UAW "Myth": A union means I will have to go on strike.
CASE/UAW "Fact": 98% of all collective bargaining agreements are settled at the bargaining table, without strikes. However, if we need to strike, the strike can only take place with a 2/3 vote of the membership, and therefore only occur when there are serious disagreements with an employer. Nobody wants to strike, but strikes are a powerful tool union members can use to ensure their rights are respected. If we vote to strike, we are entitled to UAW strike benefits, including health insurance.
The Truth: Of course, a strike is not inevitable. Nonetheless, as CASE/UAW admits above striking is one of the union's most powerful tools. That's why the UAW union in the University of California system, which constitutes the majority of UAW graduate student workers nationwide, authorized a strike during their last bargaining period (March, 2000). The strike was called off at the last minute. In fact, while actual strikes may be rare, a threat to strike, including the holding of a strike authorization vote, is a common union tactic. Once the "strike authorization vote" has been held in order to increase the union's bargaining power, the actual decision to strike usually rests with a much smaller group, the strike committee. Furthermore, as in many other union matters, the final power to approve, reject, or call off a strike rests with the international UAW. (Again, check their constitution, specifically Article 50.)
In addition, the UAW constitution specifies that a 2/3 majority of those participating in the strike authorization vote is required to approve a strike; this is not 2/3 of the whole unit membership, as claimed. (See the UAW constitution, referenced above.)
CASE/UAW "Myth": Union organizing is a secretive process.
CASE/UAW "Fact": The Cornell union drive has been a grassroots effort. Thousands of TAs and RAs have had chances to get their questions answered in both group and individual meetings. We welcome and actively initiate public presentations. To date, we have held meetings in the following departments and organizations: Communications, Medieval Studies, English, Romance Studies, Science and Technology Studies, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Physics, Chemistry, Applied and Engineering Physics, Plant Pathology, Plant Sciences, Industrial and Labor Relations, City and Regional Planning, Scientists of Color, Textiles, Design and Environmental Analysis, Nutrition, CIPA, Government, Johnson School Graduate School of Management, Education, Applied Mathematics, Animal Science, Applied Economics and Management, Classics, Astronomy, Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Biological and Environmental Engineering, Engineering Graduate Student Association, Architecture, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Economics, and Philosophy.
The Truth: Obviously, many graduate students have had an opportunity to hear CASE/UAW presentations and read related publications. However, this "grassroots" outreach only took place after a core group decided to pursue unionization, selected the UAW as a national organization to affiliate with, began putting organizers on the UAW payroll, obtained union cards, and prepared fact sheets and recruitment strategies with the help of national UAW organizers. At least some of the meetings listed were entirely organized and run by the group CASE/UAW claims to have held meetings with, and in which they may have done no more than answer a single question. These meetings were used to sell their pre-planned version of a union, not to debate whether a union should be formed or the details of its structure.
CASE/UAW "Myth": Cornell canít afford to increase our pay and benefits.
CASE/UAW "Fact": Although we contribute a huge portion of the teaching and research here, the amount of the budget dedicated to wages and benefits for graduate students is very small. Bargaining for a reasonable raise in our wages and improvements in benefits would represent an insignificant budget increase compared to other Cornell initiatives. Also, given the inestimable value to the university of recruiting and supporting top-flight graduate students, one could easily argue that Cornell canít afford NOT to increase our pay and benefits.
The Truth: Graduate student support (defined as assistantships, fellowships, tuition remissions, and health insurance) comprised 10.3% of the total Ithaca campus expenses for 2001-2002. This is hardly a "very small" amount. If stipends and benefits are increased, Cornell will either have to reduce the number of supported graduate students, redirect money from a different use, or raise more money.
Another unquestionable effect of unionization is that it will cost Cornell more to determine how we will be compensated than it does now due to complexities of collective bargaining. In any case, Cornell needs quality graduate students and must seek to make sure our compensation is adequate and competitive: witness our annual stipend increases and recent health benefits.
CASE/UAW "Myth": If we organize Cornell will have no choice but to raise tuition.
CASE/UAW "Fact": There is no evidence linking unionization of student employees and higher tuition. Unfortunately, tuition has been increasing at a steady pace without unionization (click to see a 1/30/02 Cornell Daily Sun article about rising tuition costs at Cornell). If one looks at unionized universities there is no evidence that tuition has increased at a faster rate than non-unionized universities.
The Truth: Evidence does show, however, that "the impact of graduate assistant unions on economic outcomes does not appear to be very large." (See the study.) We of course would not expect to see tuition raised at universities that unionize if those universities don't end up paying more for stipends. However, if hypothetically it is the case that CASE/UAW is able to have our pay increase more than it would have without unionization and the university keeps the same number of funded slots for graduate students, it is difficult to imagine the additional funds for our increases in pay being raised by any other means than increases in tuition. The fact that graduate students are unionized certainly won't increase Cornell's federal appropriations or sponsored research funding.
Furthermore, only one private university has a graduate union under contract (NYU), and they have been under contract for less than one year. The finances of private universities are very different from those of public universities, and the long term impact of graduate student unionization on private school finances cannot be known.
CASE/UAW "Myth": If we make
ourselves more expensive, the university will replace us with adjuncts
CASE/UAW "Fact": There is no evidence of
such behavior on the part of universities who have bargained for years
with graduate employee unions. There is evidence for the opposite
effect. For example, in the University of California system the
number of TAs actually expanded after they ratified their contract.
The contract had solid workload provisions which led to the university
hiring more TAs. While the simplest principles of economics might
lead one to believe that the university would seek cheaper labor
sources if a contract were to increase student employee compensation,
universities are more complex than that. The university needs TAs and
RAs to grade, teach, and research, so long as enrollment does not go
down and research projects continue there will be a demand for TAs,
GRAs, RAs, and GAs.
CASE/UAW "Fact": There is no evidence of such behavior on the part of universities who have bargained for years with graduate employee unions. There is evidence for the opposite effect. For example, in the University of California system the number of TAs actually expanded after they ratified their contract. The contract had solid workload provisions which led to the university hiring more TAs. While the simplest principles of economics might lead one to believe that the university would seek cheaper labor sources if a contract were to increase student employee compensation, universities are more complex than that. The university needs TAs and RAs to grade, teach, and research, so long as enrollment does not go down and research projects continue there will be a demand for TAs, GRAs, RAs, and GAs.
The Truth: As previously mentioned, we would not expect to see such effects unless the impact of graduate unionization on the economic situation of graduate students was significant; research shows that it's not. Furthermore, the hiring of more TAs hardly addresses the more significant concern of RAs and GRAs being replaced. Post-docs are already experienced researchers, they work full time, and they do not require tuition benefits to be paid on their behalf.
Furthermore, one has to be careful comparing a Cornell union to previously formed graduate student unions - most only included TAs, not RAs, and hardly any are at private universities; the NLRB only ruled in 2000 that RAs were permitted to unionize at private institutions. Long term impact of unions on private schools is not yet known.
CASE/UAW "Myth": The university
has a fair grievance procedure since it is handled by the
CASE/UAW "Fact": It is true that, as part of the universityís grievance procedure, graduate students can present their grievance to a board comprised of two graduate students and three faculty members, one of which is chosen by the ombudsman. However, the board does not make the final decision; rather, they merely hear the case and issue a recommendation to the administration: "this recommendation shall be forwarded to the Provost for final resolution." (p. 37 of The Graduate Schoolís Guide to Graduate Study). In contrast, union contracts typically include provisions allowing employees to have their disputes settled by neutral third party arbitration.
The Truth: We contacted the current provost, Biddy Martin, who conferred with other members of the administration to determine that the provost has never, in the last 9.5 years (the length of their collective memory), overturned a decision of the Graduate Grievance Review Board. In one case, the provost upheld the board's ruling, but rejected a further recommendation on the grounds that it was inconsistant with their primary ruling. The current grievance procedure has not yet shown to be insufficient, if students follow it. In addition, the current grievance procedure is flexible; if graduate students are uncomfortable approaching someone in their own department, they can go directly to the Dean of the Graduate School with their grievances.
The grievance procedures laid out in union contracts are very similar to the one in place at Cornell, with only an additional level of recourse available after referral to the provost. (See the NYU contract, for instance.) Additionally, many graduate student grievances arise out of activities which are not part of their job as a TA or RA, and thus would not be under the jurisdiction of a union grievance procedure. The union can only help in grievances when they are in direct violation of the contract.