Hundreds of teaching assistants in the humanities and social sciences could walk out of their classrooms beginning April 18 — just days before reading week and final exam period — if a majority of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization’s members vote in the coming weeks to strike, several GESO members said on Tuesday.
Organizers are trying to build support among TAs in the humanities and social science departments in preparation for a strike vote that is expected to occur the week before GESO’s planned job action. The mid-April TA strike would coincide with a job action that graduate TAs at Columbia University are planning, GESO members said, and would be aimed at convincing the University administration to recognize GESO as a union.
“I am preparing for the possibility of a strike,” GESO organizer Shana Redmond GRD ’08 said. “I hope that it will happen, because I do think that the University has been entirely unresponsive.”
Yale President Richard Levin said a TA strike would not alter the University’s decision to refuse to recognize GESO as a union. The administration has stood behind a National Labor Relations Board ruling in 2004 that denied employee status to graduate students working as TAs at private institutions.
“We continue to believe that unionization is not in the best interest of graduate students or the University as a whole,” Levin wrote in an e-mail from Washington, D.C. “A strike will not alter that view.”
If Columbia’s TAs vote to strike, their strike will last for just one week, ending on April 23, according to Tuesday’s Columbia Spectator, unlike a four-week strike that occured at the university in the spring of 2004. But GESO leaders have yet to determine the duration of a TA strike at Yale, Redmond said.
“We have to be flexible as far as that’s concerned,” Redmond said. “The membership has to decide that.”
Like their counterparts at Columbia, GESO organizers hope to secure majority support for a strike among graduate teaching assistants in the humanities and social sciences before holding a strike vote.
“My understanding is, there will be a strike vote here sometime soon,” GESO member Angela Pulley-Hudson GRD ’07 said. “That will determine whether or not the graduate organization here will go on strike. They query the membership before taking a big action.”
Although GESO chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 has said that conversations among fellow graduate students and GESO members regarding a possible strike have been promising, Redmond said gauging the amount of support for a strike at this time would be “difficult and imprecise.”
Reynolds and other high-ranking GESO leaders did not return calls for comment on Tuesday.
GESO is working to earn the support of a majority of TAs, but its members are struggling, according to one GESO member who asked not to be named.
“I hear they’re having trouble getting support for the strike,” the GESO member said.
Yale officials said they do not expect the strike to seriously inconvenience students.
“In the past when they have chosen to disrupt undergraduate education, there has been minimal impact,” University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said. “The only thing they would do would be causing disruption to undergraduates, but classes will continue.”
GESO, which has gone on strike a number of times during the last 15 years to win recognition from Yale as a union, most recently joined Locals 34 and 35 during a five-day strike in March 2003 and a three-and-a-half week strike that September.
As an undergraduate at Yale during GESO’s 1995 grade strike, Claudia Brittenham GRD ’08, the former president of the anti-GESO group At What Cost, said the strike was not as disruptive as she had anticipated.
“It was much more unsettling than anything else,” Brittenham said. “Not many people actually struck. Other grad students and faculty were willing to pick up the slack and do the grading, for the most part. Strikes haven’t been as disruptive as I think they are intended to be.”
If graduate TAs choose to strike in the coming weeks, they will continue to receive their stipends in accordance with University policy. To mitigate disruptions to teaching schedules, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said faculty members whose courses are affected by the strike would be asked to arrange alternate sections or common meetings for undergraduates.
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