NLRB dismisses two GESO charges

The National Labor Relations Board Wednesday dismissed two unfair labor practice charges filed against the University by GESO last December.

The ruling is the latest development in the Graduate Employees and Students Organization’s efforts to become a recognized union.

GESO chairman J.T. Way GRD ’05 said the group would appeal the decision.

GESO filed the charges following two separate incidents they said represented unfair labor practices.

One of the charges stemmed from an incident in early December, when GESO members who had set up posters at a table in the McDougal Center were asked to remove their materials. The second involved statements made by history professor Paul Kennedy in an e-mail in which he said he would not teach his lecture class, the “Strategy and Diplomacy of the Great Powers since 1860,” unless he could be assured teaching assistants would not engage in a grade strike or other “industrial action.”

In its ruling, the NLRB declared that GESO members had no more right to poster in the McDougal Center than any other students. Graduate School Dean Susan Hockfield said in December that no students were allowed to poster in the McDougal Center.

The NLRB also ruled that Kennedy’s e-mail statement did not violate labor rules because he was not discussing issues related to a legal strike.

GESO members had said Kennedy’s e-mail interfered with the rights of employees, in this case teaching assistants. It is contested whether TAs are employees of Yale.

The NLRB decision said Kennedy was talking about the grade strike of 1995-96, when some TAs withheld grades in an attempt to gain recognition for GESO from the University.

In its ruling, the NLRB noted that the grade strike was not a legal strike and so was not protected. Instead, the NLRB said Kennedy’s e-mail could be considered academic discourse.

University administrators said they welcomed the ruling.

“We are obviously pleased with the ruling,” President Richard Levin said. “I don’t imagine it will have a particularly significant impact on the other aspects of the rest of the year.”

Kennedy said he had forgotten about the complaint and had been too focused on other matters to pay attention to it.

Yale General Counsel Dorothy Robinson released a statement Wednesday.

“We are pleased by the board’s dismissal of the charge and by the agency’s consideration of the special circumstances of the academic environment,” Robinson said.

Way said he was disappointed by the ruling but did not expect it to affect GESO’s role on campus.

“Nothing has changed,” Way said. “It’s still against the law to threaten or coerce graduate teachers and researchers. We’re still protected by the National Labor Relations Act.

“There seems to be some confusion about what constitutes sufficient coercive speech. I think at a university there should be no coercive speech. But there’s no reason that we can’t sit down with the administration and work out the parameters of what speech is allowed in a collegial manner.”

Hockfield was unavailable for comment Tuesday night.

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