Members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization will vote this evening to decide whether to go on a five-day teaching assistant strike beginning April 18.
Current TAs as well as non-teaching members of GESO will vote on the strike, with non-TAs voting to voice their “solidarity” with GESO TAs. The vote will be determined by secret ballot at a 7:30 p.m. membership meeting at the First and Summerfield Church at 425 College St.
Today’s vote comes a week after GESO issued an ultimatum to Yale President Richard Levin to either recognize GESO as a union or face a strike by the group’s TA members. GESO co-chair Melissa Mason GRD ’08 said last week that she believes there is widespread support for a strike among graduate TAs in the humanities and social sciences and is hopeful the vote will pass.
“There’s overwhelming support for a union here on central campus,” Mason said. “An overwhelming majority of our TAs want a union, so it’s up to our membership to decide if we should strike.”
Although some other GESO members told the News in recent days that they were skeptical that a majority of GESO’s membership will support a strike effort, GESO leaders are moving forward with plans for the anticipated strike. They are busy wooing the support of local and state politicians, having met with U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, a Democrat from Connecticut, on Monday in an attempt to win his support of a strike. GESO is coordinating the potential strike with graduate student TAs at Columbia University — who themselves are voting on a strike, the results of which are expected to be released today — and groups from both groups are planning a labor rally April 20 in New York City.
Yale administrators said they are preparing a potential strike by solidifying lines of communication to students and faculty in an effort to minimize any disruption to students’ academic life.
“For 98.5 percent of all the people in the University it will be business as usual,” Levin said.
A vote today by GESO members in favor of a strike would mark the third labor strike at Yale in two years. But since the administration does not recognize GESO as a union, officials will not be consumed during a strike with long hours of contract negotiations as they were during the five-day and three-week strikes of locals 34 and 35 in March 2003 and September 2003, respectively.
“Local 34 and 35 are unions that we recognize and we respect, and they made an all-out effort to have their members strike,” Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said. “GESO is a group of students who want a union that doesn’t represent the majority of graduate students.”
GESO spokeswoman Emma Ross GRD ’06 said she thinks the University’s refusal to negotiate a contract with GESO demonstrates an ignorance of various issues that concern the group’s members, such as childcare benefits, faculty diversity and pay equity across academic departments. Ross said she plans to vote in favor of a strike today because she thinks a graduate student union is necessary to address those and other needs.
“I guess my response is that their unwillingness to sit down and talk with us or respond to the fact that 60 percent of the TAs have certified their membership — -that’s disrespectful,” Ross said.
Despite the expected absence of some TAs from their sections next week, which is the last week of regular classes for undergraduates, Levin said he expects professors to ensure the strike is not detrimental to students. Professors teaching courses with TAs on strike are expected to compensate for the TAs’ absences as they see fit, such as finding TAs who are not striking to cover the section, teaching the sections themselves or allowing students to miss section that week, Levin said.
“The professors will take different strategies,” Levin said. “It’s the responsibility of each instructor that the course serves the need of the students, so that can be handled in a number of different ways.”
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said his office will be in contact with academic departments in order to minimize any disruptions to instruction that might occur. Still, he said, Yale officials are not preparing for significant impediments to classes.
“Our office will monitor the situation on a daily basis, and we are and will be in touch with departments to ensure the continuity of instruction as closely as it is possible to do so,” Butler said. “I think that we have every reason to believe that most teaching assistants will continue to teach, and that most classes will continue to meet.”
If GESO members vote to strike today, graduate students and undergraduates will receive e-mails from administrators informing them of the University’s position on the strike, Klasky said. The e-mail will inform students they have a right to cross strike lines in order to attend class, Klasky said.
“I don’t think anyone thinks its going to be that disruptive,” Klasky said. “I think we feel its our mission, it’s our responsibility to let everybody know their rights and to ensure everyone that classes will be taught, but some professors, some section leaders may in fact choose to move their classes off campus.”
At a meeting with News editors last week, GESO leaders said they will not ask students to skip classes or avoid crossing picket lines.
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