Graduate students narrowly voted against the Graduate Employees and Students Organization Wednesday, dealing GESO organizers an unexpected defeat in a League of Women Voters election.
Though official tallies will not be released until Thursday, initial results showed graduate students voted against GESO 694 to 651, with 80 challenge ballots. GESO chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said there were also 27 write-in votes that expressed support for unionization but not for GESO.
In a separate vote Wednesday, members of Local 34, which represents 2,800 clerical and technical workers, overwhelmingly rejected Yale’s 10-year contract proposal, 1,124 to 121 with four challenge ballots.
GESO leaders initially called for the vote to demonstrate the amount of support GESO had among graduate students. Leaders said they hoped it would provide an impetus for Yale officials to agree to negotiate with the group on terms for establishing a union, but Yale officials said their opposition to GESO would not be affected by the vote.
Seth said the results of the vote showed that the group has a lot of organizing to do over the summer.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed because I would have liked to see a stronger showing of support for the union,” she said. “But I still think graduate researchers and teachers need an organized collective voice on this campus.”
University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the results of the GESO vote verify the administration’s belief that many teaching and research assistants do not support GESO.
“The vote confirms what we’ve been well aware of for some time now — that many graduate students do not want to be represented by GESO and have serious concerns about the unionization of graduate students at Yale,” she said.
Rae Webber of the League of Women Voters said the league will review the contested ballots and decide what to do with them before officially announcing the results of the vote.
Members of the group At What Cost, who spent the day on Old Campus urging graduate students to vote against GESO, said they were upset by the timing and set-up of the vote.
Rachel Anderson GRD ’05 said GESO’s decision to announce the vote last Monday was “actually a mixed blessing.”
“It’s obviously illegitimate,” Anderson said. “But it’s galvanized the opposition — before, people were afraid to talk about it.”
GESO won a previous League of Women Voters election in 1995, though only 700 graduate students voted and the results had no legal implications. The group has been trying to organize a teaching and research assistant union for nearly 14 years but has not called for a National Labor Relations Board election because they say the process would allow the University to contest the results of an election.
University officials say the NLRB is the legally established way to form a union, but have said they expect the NLRB to overturn the recent precedent that allows graduate students at private universities to unionize.
Members of Local 34, whose contracts expired last January, voted against Yale’s most recent contract offer, which the University proposed following a weeklong strike in March.
Local 34 President Laura Smith said Thursday’s vote demonstrated that union leaders’ opposition to the 10-year offer reflected the views of their members, something she said Yale President Richard Levin has disputed.
“Tonight the members of Local 34 took a resounding vote to reject Yale’s proposal,” Smith said. “[Our members] are ready and willing to fight on until they get what they want.”
Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the University’s proposal was good, and noted that less than half of the Local 34 bargaining unit participated in the vote.
“I’m struck by the low turnout,” he said.
Approximately 100 of the 1,100 members of Local 35, Yale’s service and maintenance union, also marched to Levin’s Woodbridge Hall office after their Wednesday evening membership meeting to ask Levin for fair contracts.
Local 35 member John Threatt said he hopes Levin recognizes that union members want better pensions and better pay.
“This is what we’re going to be fighting for,” he said. “We’re not going to be making any changes.”
Negotiators for locals 34 and 35 will meet with Yale negotiators Friday for full-table bargaining sessions, marking the 16th month of contract talks. The two sides have sparred over the organizing efforts of GESO and workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, which are non-mandatory bargaining items, but have also failed to come to agreement on wages, pensions or training issues.
— Staff Reporter Will Sullivan contributed to this report.