Board to probe GESO harassment claims

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Members of Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization are alleging that professors and administrators broke laws by harassing graduate students seeking to unionize last spring, and an academic labor board will investigate the group’s claims later this month.

The board, which includes several prominent labor experts, approached GESO early this week about improprieties by the administration, GESO chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said. Inappropriate comments and intimidating actions by professors may have contributed to the group’s defeat in a unionization election in April, Seth and other GESO members said. Yale officials criticized the move, saying the charges were incorrect and should be taken to the National Labor Relations Board, not an academic board.

Among specific allegations, GESO member Shar-Yin Huang GRD ’07 said someone burned two posters of a petition she and 15 other GESO members in the Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry Department signed and posted last spring. Huang said she contacted Yale administrators, who deferred the students to the police. Ultimately, Yale officials did not respond to the incident, she said.

“What’s really disappointing and upsetting is the school administration’s inaction,” Huang said.

Maris Zivarts GRD ’04 said Paul Forscher, a Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology professor, walked through a picket line to tell him that he did not support Zivarts’ involvement in unionizing efforts when GESO members participated in a one-week strike last March. He said Forscher turned to him as he walked away and said, “Good luck with your career, buddy.”

“I’m a very public member of the union,” Zivarts said. “I can only imagine what might have happened to other students.”

Forscher could not be reached for comment.

Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the University has not supported inappropriate behavior toward graduate students and said the academic labor board was not the appropriate forum for such complaints.

“I think the creation of a committee is unnecessary and inappropriate,” Klasky said. “There’s an external process that already exists through the NLRB, and GESO has availed itself of this process with some regularity.”

Seth said GESO members have taken its complaints to the NLRB in the past but that the process takes too long. She said GESO’s allegations should be examined by a committee with particular knowledge about labor issues at universities.

Fred Feinstein, a former general council for the NLRB, and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich will lead the investigations. GESO leaders said the group will begin hearing the complaints Sept. 20 at a two-day conference of graduate students involved in unionization drives at different schools.

GESO has been trying to organize graduate students for over a decade. The group, which is closely aligned with Yale’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, participated in a one-week strike with union members in March. But when the group held a vote at the end of April, graduate students voted against GESO, 694 to 651.

Union leaders, who have been negotiating new contracts for nearly 4,000 workers with Yale officials since February 2002, recently withdrew the organizing drive of graduate students from their list of demands. GESO issues are not legally tied to union contracts, but the dispute over recognition for GESO has been a major obstacle in this round of talks.

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