GESO mulls over TA strike

Members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization are considering a strike to pressure University administrators to recognize the group as a union, GESO chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said Thursday.

Reynolds said a strike is one of several options the organization is considering. Though she would not commit to a date of the possible strike and said she has not scheduled a membership meeting to discuss it, Reynolds did not rule out the prospect that a work stoppage could occur this semester. As of yet there has been no official assessment of support for a potential strike among graduate teaching assistants, but Reynolds said that it is a University-wide topic of informal discussion.

It would not be the first time in recent memory that Geso has declared a strike. During the fall of 1995, in an effort to gain recognition from the University, GESO-affiliated teaching assistants in the humanities and social sciences withheld fall term grades. In March 2003 GESO members went on strike for five days. That September, they joined members of Locals 34 and 35 in a three-and-a-half-week strike.

Reynolds said several steps would be required for a strike to occur.

“I would say that everything’s on the table right now,” Reynolds said. “We have not scheduled a strike, and we have not scheduled a strike vote, but GESO members are very concerned about what we should actually do. We want a union, we want a contract, and we’re talking to each other about what we need to do next.”

But Yale administrators said a GESO strike would not be productive.

“I think it will do what past strikes have done, which is to alienate faculty and students,” Yale President Richard Levin said.

Levin has said he will abide by July’s National Labor Relations Board ruling against the employee status of graduate teachers and researchers. He said he also recognizes the April 2003 defeat of unionization in an election sponsored by the League of Women Voters that was open to all Yale graduate students rather than GESO’s vote among graduate teaching assistants in language, humanities and social science classes.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler also said a graduate teacher strike would serve primarily to disrupt the education of both graduate and undergraduate students, but he noted that according to graduate school and University policies, graduate teachers on strike would continue to receive teaching stipends.

Reynolds said one of the primary concerns among GESO members is the issue of diversity at Yale, also named as a primary focus for members of Locals 34 and 35. For graduate teachers, Reynolds said the University offers a dispiriting example of minority underrepresentation in the job market.

“Yale should be a leading institution in ensuring that the faculty is open to women and people of color, and Yale has a pretty atrocious record,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said other issues of pressing concern to graduate teaching assistants include pay equity — since the University’s pay scale is based on class seniority rather than the length of time a graduate student has taught — and health care for dependents of GESO members, since often graduate teachers cannot afford medical care for their children.

Josh Eidelson ’06 said GESO’s recognition as a union is important to undergraduates as well as graduate students.

“I think the agenda GESO is fighting for is one that could drastically improve teaching and education at Yale,” Eidelson, a member of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, said. “As a student, my education is hurt when my TA is forced to teach outside their area of expertise, or is forced to take another job on the side to support their kids, or when I need to meet with a teaching assistant off campus somewhere because there’s no office space in which to do it.”

Reynolds announced prior to the biannual GESO membership meeting in December that 60 percent of the 521 Yale graduate teaching assistants in the languages, humanities and social sciences had voted in favor of unionization, and the vote totals from the organization’s 12-week membership card count were later verified by Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz. But University administrators continued to adhere to last summer’s NLRB ruling.

Members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization protest outside the provost’s office Jan. 10. GESO has raised the possibility of a strike as one option for pressing its agenda.
Zoe Pershing-Foley
Members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization protest outside the provost’s office Jan. 10. GESO has raised the possibility of a strike as one option for pressing its agenda.

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