Critics see little change in GESO after April defeat



When graduate students dealt GESO an unexpected loss in a representation vote last spring, many students and administrators questioned the organization’s future. But upon their return to campus, graduate students said they have encountered a GESO that remains largely unchanged.

GESO leaders have maintained that the organization is still strong four months after its April 30 defeat. Following the vote, GESO co-chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said the group would have to re-evaluate its strategies over the summer. But critics of the organization said they have not seen change and that they are concerned the group is using the same polarizing strategies now that it employed last year.

This past summer, GESO leaders polled graduate students in order to gauge their thoughts on GESO and possible ways to improve the organization. And as the fall semester began, GESO resumed activity by approaching an academic labor board to investigate whether Yale administrators and faculty members broke the law by harassing graduate students who were trying to unionize. GESO leaders have said harassment by faculty members may have contributed to the group’s defeat in the vote for unionization.

But Claudia Brittenham GRD ’08 — president of At What Cost — said she is troubled by the fact that circumstances leading up to the hearing are very similar to those that preceded the April vote. Some graduate students formed At What Cost last spring in order to address concerns they had about GESO’s organizing tactics.

She said GESO has given short notice about the hearing and will hold the event at an inconvenient time for graduate students, who are just returning to campus.

“We’re distracted from the unionization question now, just like we were distracted during reading period last spring,” Brittenham said.

Brittenham said she had hoped GESO members would rethink their strategies over the summer, but she has been disappointed to see leaders employing the same tactics they used in the past.

“It seemed like GESO’s [defeat] had had some impact on their strategies,” Brittenham said. “But then we came back this fall, and it was back to business as usual.”

Some GESO members have also speculated that the significant turnout of graduate students in the sciences, many of whom are traditionally opposed to unionization, also contributed to the group’s defeat.

Former GESO member Chris Baker GRD ’02, a post-doctoral associate in neuroscience, dropped out of the organization last summer after serving as an organizer for a year. Baker said he realized that the issues science students face would not be adequately addressed through a labor union. He said he thinks GESO has pitted many students against each other instead of fulfilling a union’s goal of bringing people together.

“Personally, I think the whole organization has been defunct for some time,” he said. “It has a long-standing history of animosity, disagreement with the establishment. The only thing they can really do is start over from scratch.”

But GESO Coordinating Committee member Kristie Starr GRD ’04 said she hopes the Sept. 20 academic labor board hearing will show that harassment from faculty members and the administration did, in fact, contribute to GESO’s 694-651 loss.

“I really hope that the labor board can come up with a report that would make a difference in the organizing environment on this campus,” Starr said.

GESO has been trying to organize graduate students for over a decade. In the month before the vote, many members participated in a five-day strike during which they did not work, teach sections or enter University facilities.

Yale’s two recognized unions, Locals 34 and 35, recently dropped official recognition for GESO from their list of demands in contract negotiations with the University. GESO’s organizing efforts, which are not legally linked to the unions’ contracts, have been a source of contention in this round of talks.

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