GESO claims card count victory

Though Graduate Employees and Students Organization officials said they consider results from a recent card count to be an important step in their union recognition campaign, University administrators continue to abide by a National Labor Relations Board ruling and said they will maintain their policy of not granting employee status to graduate teachers and researchers.

During a Dec. 14 press event preceding a biannual GESO membership meeting at First and Summerfield Methodist Church, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz confirmed vote totals from a 12-week membership card count conducted during the fall semester. On Dec. 17, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer confirmed that a majority of graduate teaching and research assistants at Columbia University had also signed cards in support of unionization.

Of the 521 Yale fall semester graduate teaching assistants in the languages, humanities and social sciences, 315, or 60 percent, support unionization, GESO chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said. Reynolds said the card count did not include teaching assistants in the physical sciences because GESO members consider them to be a separate “community of interest.”

GESO officials said Bysiewicz’s and Spitzer’s confirmations of majority unionization support leaves the door open for Yale and Columbia to voluntarily recognize graduate teachers as union members and to begin bargaining over contract terms.

But Yale President Richard Levin said a ruling last July by the NLRB affirms the University’s belief that graduate students are principally students and not statutory employees, and therefore have no legal right to form unions. Columbia also will continue to abide by the NLRB’s ruling despite the results of the card count by the school’s graduate student organizing group, Columbia spokeswoman Susan Brown said.

“The typical grad student teaches three or four semesters over five years,” Levin said shortly after the meeting. “We regard their teaching experience as part of their training and education.”

GESO’s leadership said they were disappointed with Yale’s reaction to the vote.

“Unfortunately, the University has decided not to respond at all,” Reynolds said. “The University chose not to do the right thing.”

At the closed-door GESO meeting, all current GESO members were informed of the card-count results and were invited to vote on a resolution determining whether they should press Yale to recognize the union. Reynolds said the measure received unanimous approval from the approximately 250 GESO members who attended the meeting.

Reynolds said she hopes support from political figures such as New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, and Greater New Haven Central Labor Council President Robert Proto, all of whom were present at the GESO announcement, will induce the University to recognize GESO as a union.

Despite the University’s continued refusal to grant union recognition to GESO, Reynolds said the organization will continue to reach out to more than 40,000 college and university teachers and researchers nationwide who have received union recognition.

“We’re building a nationally unified college labor movement,” she said.

In April 2003, GESO narrowly lost an election sponsored by the League of Women Voters to determine support for unionization in the Graduate School. Unlike GESO’s membership card count this fall which only included graduate students serving as teaching assistants in language, humanities and social science classes last semester, the 2003 vote was open to all graduate students.

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