With strike, tensions rise for GESO



While many members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization believe this week’s strike will aid in their quest for a union, some graduate students say GESO’s tactics do more to hurt their cause than help it.

Many GESO members have gone on strike this week to protest the University’s opposition to graduate student unionization, but some graduate students said they disagree with GESO’s tactics and the way members of the GESO Coordinating Committee have organized the strike. Most of the concerned students said they are not opposed to unionization, but are concerned with polarizing effects GESO’s tactics have had on the organization and the graduate student body in general.

Weihua Niu GRD ’04, who has been a member of GESO since she arrived at Yale five years ago, said when she first joined, she saw GESO fighting for specific goals, but in the past two years, has seen less and less of that.

“I had a very good experience as a GESO member,” Niu said. “But recently I’ve been disappointed because of the approach right now GESO is taking.”

Jennifer Jackson GRD ’06, who is not in GESO, said the major turning point in the level of support for GESO within the Anthropology Department came on Feb. 24, when GESO filed unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board based on four alleged incidents involving five professors. Jackson said the charges against one of the professors named, Anthropology Director of Graduate Studies Helen Siu, were erroneous.

She said the charges prompted graduate students who were unsure of their feelings toward GESO to turn away from the organization. In addition, Jackson said professors in the department feel they can no longer speak freely to graduate students.

Lara Cohen GRD ’06 said GESO should form a caucus to discuss reform.

“It would be an institutionalized space for evaluating organization,” Cohen said. “A lot of people are really fed up and are threatening to leave GESO and I’m not ready to do that — to give up on GESO is to give up on unionization at Yale.”

GESO members are striking this week alongside members of Yale’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35 and unionized dietary workers from Yale-New Haven Hospital. GESO leaders have urged members to hold an intellectual strike by not teaching sections, conducting research or attending classes. University officials have said it is impossible to determine how many graduate students are participating in the strike but estimated that the number is small.

GESO has been trying to organize graduate teaching and research assistants for over a decade but has not formally requested an election. University administrators have long opposed unionization and maintain that graduate students are not employees.

Eric Lindstrom GRD ’06, a non-striking GESO member, said this week’s strike raises concerns about GESO unanimity.

“I’m worried as far as GESO is concerned, it’s a very partial strike of graduate students and a partial strike of GESO members,” Lindstrom said. “I don’t think that the University is going to be brought to its knees.”

In addition, he said GESO’s organizing drive could be hurting the chances locals 34 and 35 have for getting contracts.

University administrators have said if graduate student unionization were not an issue, locals 34 and 35 would already have contracts. But union leaders have maintained that GESO is not the focal point of negotiations, which have been going on for more than a year.

Matthew Glassman GRD ’05, a member of the anti-GESO group GASO, said many graduate students are supporting locals 34 and 35 and do not believe GESO’s organizing drive should be an issue in the labor dispute.

“One thing the strike will highlight is that GESO has very little power on their own,” he said. “To push GESO into this is to make the assumption that the situation with graduate students is analogous to that of full-time laborers.”

But Kate Clancy GRD ’07, a GESO organizer, said the strike is about growth and empowerment for the organization.

“We’re going to come out of this twice as strong, ” Clancy said. “We are more vibrant, more active than we ever have been before.”

GESO co-chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said while the picket lines have been energetic, she is not sure if the GESO strike will continue after classes resume on March 24. Seth said GESO’s coordinating committee will meet over spring break to discuss whether to continue the strike after spring break. Locals 34 and 35 will end their strike Friday and will not strike after spring break, union leaders said Wednesday.

GESO held a strike vote meeting Feb. 19, where members who were present voted in favor of the Coordinating Committee’s resolution by a margin of 482 to 141. At the meeting, some GESO members proposed an alternative resolution, calling for more membership-wide votes on all major decisions. GESO members chose the Coordinating Committee’s resolution over the alternate resolution by a vote of 283 to 246, with 10 abstentions.

GESO member Mark Greif GRD ’06 said he voted for the alternate resolution, but is still striking this week. He said he hopes the leadership will consult its members more after the strike to make sure their visions for the group are being recognized.

“The fear is that our organizers want to mobilize rather than represent the members,” Greif said. “The hope is that if enough people speak up then things will really change.”

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