GESO leaders said the organization’s members may strike this fall if the University does not hold discussions with the teaching assistant group.
The Graduate Employees and Students Organization, which has been trying to form a teaching assistant union for more than a decade, will also join Yale’s two largest unions in a day of civil disobedience near the end of this month. The unions, which have been closely aligned with GESO for many years, have already authorized their leaders to call job actions, including strikes.
“The administration’s refusal to sit down and engage now is creating a situation where there could be a strike,” GESO Chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said. “It’s really up to the administration right now.”
University leaders have developed a contingency plan in case of strikes or other job actions, but they declined to comment on specific plans.
“The University’s response depends on the nature and duration of the strike,” Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said. “We are not prepared to comment on specifics at this time. We will do everything we can to ensure that disruption to the educational experience of Yale College students is kept to a minimum.”
GESO’s effort to unionize graduate students has been a major stumbling block in Yale’s ongoing contract negotiations with the University’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35. The unions are also supporting the efforts of some Yale-New Haven Hospital workers to join a union.
While Yale and the unions disagree about whether graduate students should unionize, a second focus of debate in recent years has been the method by which the TAs would potentially form a union.
GESO leaders have asked to be recognized through card-count neutrality, a process by which the University would agree not to express any opinion on the issue of unionization. The University would then agree to recognize a union if a majority of graduate students turned in union cards.
Yale, on the other hand, has said that a National Labor Relations Board election is the established method for forming a union and has refused to recognize GESO as a representative of graduate students.
But last week Seth said her priority is to enter into serious discussions with the University, and said the group would reconsider its demands for a card-count neutrality agreement.
“If the administration would agree to recognize the results, then we’d be willing to talk,” Seth said. “We are not committed to any single way of getting a union. We are committed to getting a union.”
GESO members held a brief grade strike at the end of the fall term in 1995. During the strike, held as Yale and locals 34 and 35 negotiated their previous contracts, some TAs refused to turn in term grades. The strike was later ruled legally unprotected by the NLRB because TAs held review sessions during the strike and did not stop all teaching activity.
In the years since 1995, when GESO was virtually alone in its attempt to unionize TAs on a private school campus, graduate student unionization has become a fast-growing movement on private campuses in the Northeast. A turning point in the movement came in 2000, when the NLRB ruled that TAs at New York University were employees and could form unions. Since then, NYU has become the first university to sign contracts with a graduate student union, and graduate students at Brown and Columbia universities have held union elections.
Cornell University announced this summer that it would hold an election for graduate students there and agreed to recognize the results without appeal. Cornell’s agreement marked the first time a private university has amicably addressed unionization issues with graduate students seeking to organize.
Administrators at several universities are awaiting the results of appeals filed by Brown and Columbia contesting the union elections held there. If the NLRB rules in favor of the universities, the 2000 precedent would be overturned and graduate students would no longer legally be considered employees.