With rumors swirling through campus that members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization serving as teaching assistants may strike this semester to pressure Yale administrators to grant GESO recognition as a union, organizers maintain that they do not yet have concrete plans to strike.
GESO leaders currently are attempting to garner support for a strike among graduate students, but an official declaration of a strike would require a majority vote by the group’s members. Groups similar to GESO at Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania also are stepping up plans for possible strikes, and organizers said a TA strike at Yale would provide an impetus for strikes this spring at the two schools.
Buoyed by the results of card-count votes last semester indicating majority support for unionization among some groups of graduate teaching assistants and researchers, graduate student groups at all three universities have been pressuring their administrations for union recognition.
“Graduate students have demonstrated that they want a union, they want a contract,” GESO Chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said. “It’s in the administration’s hands right now to do the right thing and recognize that majority.”
Yale administrators have already stated that they will uphold the National Labor Relations Board’s ruling last July that denied employee status to graduate students at private institutions. Even if teaching assistants and researchers at the three Ivy League institutions went on strike simultaneously, Yale officials would not be swayed from their anti-unionization stance, University President Richard Levin said.
“Our response would be the same whether the strike were limited to Yale or concerted with other schools,” Levin wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday from Washington, D.C. “We’ve always charted our own course in dealing with the subject of graduate-student unionization.”
Bob Proto, president of Local 35 and the Greater New Haven Labor Council, said Yale’s unions are prepared to support a GESO strike. GESO joined locals 34 and 35 during a five-day strike in March 2003 and a three-and-a-half week strike that September.
“The University should sit down with their teachers,” Proto said. “I know of no definite plans, but we stand ready to support them in any way we could. We’re allies with the graduate teachers, and so whatever they decide to do, we’re in total support of it.”
Graduate student organizations at Yale, Columbia and Penn have concluded that a strike is the best way to influence their administrations to reverse their positions on unionization, said David Wolach, an organizer with Columbia’s Graduate Student Employees United.
“I think that certainly it’s going to take a strike,” Wolach said. “I think members on the various campuses where there are organized drives are coming to understand that it’s going to take concerted action … to win a union. I think that’s why solidarity between campuses is going to be tantamount to winning this spring.”
Though members of GSEU said they likely will be induced to vote in favor of a job action if teaching assistants at Yale strike, Wolach stressed that the ultimate decision must be made by the members themselves.
But at Yale, graduate students interviewed this week expressed mixed feelings regarding a possible strike.
Joshua Weinger GRD ’06, who is earning a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, said he does not think teaching assistants in the science departments would support a GESO strike.
“My feeling is that scientists would certainly not support it,” Weinger said. “Around here, up on Science Hill, things have been sort of quiet from them.”
Because GESO primarily recruits in the humanities departments, support for a strike appears greater among humanities and social science students. Theresa Runstedtler GRD ’07, a Ph.D. candidate in African-American Studies, said she supports unionization and would join GESO in a strike as a means of providing “optimal” working conditions for teaching assistants and researchers and promoting diversity within the Graduate School.
“I can assure the undergraduates and others in the Yale community that we do not take the possibility of striking lightly,” Runstedtler said. “I think that we are entering a time when graduate students at Yale University are recognizing their place within a nationwide solution to the problems plaguing a profession that we care very deeply about.”
But Rachel Mae Anderson GRD ’05, a member of the anti-unionization group At What Cost, said she thinks the majority support GESO claimed in December is a “sham.”
“I know no less than a dozen people … who at one point signed a card because the organizers would not let them alone. But these people are not interested in being part of a union,” Anderson said. “I think there are plenty of graduate students who will ignore [a strike], who will continue to work, keep doing their TA-ing.”
Before a strike can be declared among graduate teaching assistants, Reynolds said, GESO members must first hold a membership meeting to vote in favor of taking such action.