GESO members begin strike today

Hundreds of Graduate Employees and Students Organization members are expected to mark the beginning of a five-day teaching assistant strike this morning by marching in picket lines and rallying with prominent state and local politicians.

The inaugural day of the strike, the fifth job action in 15 years, will kick off with visits on the picket lines from Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 and Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz ’83, as well as a noon rally with U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro — all Democrats who have supported GESO in the past. Some TAs and GESO members will picket throughout central campus from 8:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. today.

GESO spokeswoman Rachel Sulkes GRD ’01 said although the exact locations of picket lines have yet to be determined, GESO members likely will target specific classes, particularly large lecture courses in the humanities and social sciences. Sulkes said she expects the strike — which is being coordinated with a TA strike at Columbia University beginning today — will draw national attention to the graduate student unionization movement.

“We have a lot of friends throughout the country paying attention to this,” Sulkes said. “All eyes are on what’s happening here.”

Science classes are not expected to be disturbed, as only TAs in the humanities and social sciences are striking with GESO. In a secret-ballot vote last Wednesday among GESO TAs in the humanities and social sciences, 82 percent supported the strike, said GESO chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07, who has refused to release the official vote tally.

While strike plans for the remainder of the week are tentative, Sulkes said there will be a noontime rally Tuesday featuring Unite HERE President John Wilhelm ’67, and GESO members will join strikers at Columbia for a labor rally in New York City on Wednesday. TAs will be picketing throughout campus in the morning hours every day this week except Wednesday, she said.

GESO organizers have negotiated an agreement with the New Haven Police Department to close certain streets to traffic periodically throughout the week, Sulkes said. High Street will be closed this morning when picketers are visited by Blumenthal, a potential gubernatorial candidate, and Bysiewicz, who already has declared her candidacy for the state’s top post. In addition, Broadway and Elm streets will be closed today for a noontime rally featuring DeLauro, Sulkes said.

Though GESO members expect hundreds of TAs to strike this week, Yale officials have said they do not anticipate the strike to be disruptive. Professors teaching courses with TAs on strike are expected to find non-striking TAs to cover sections, teach the sections themselves or allow students to miss section this week, Yale President Richard Levin said last week.

Graduate School Dean Jon Butler has said his office will coordinate with academic departments to ensure that undergraduates’ academic experiences are not disrupted during the strike.

“We would regret any disruption to the teaching schedule,” Butler said. “Faculty members are responsible for their courses and for seeing that the students are taught. We do ask faculty to arrange alternate sections.”

GESO has said that undergraduates, even those sympathizing with the group, should not feel compelled to miss classes to join striking TAs on picket lines. Still, the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, which is closely aligned with GESO, sent out a campus-wide e-mail Sunday night asking undergraduates to participate in the week’s strike events.

The strike coincides with Bulldog Days events, which run from Sunday until Tuesday and are expected to draw more than 1,000 prospective freshmen to campus. Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said he does not expect the strike to disrupt Bulldog Days or intimidate the visiting students.

The UOC is organizing an ice cream social for visiting students on Monday night to explain GESO’s rationale for striking and the broader unionization movement at Yale. The group will set up information booths on Old Campus today targeted specifically at prospective freshmen, UOC member Joshua Eidelson ’06 said. But Sulkes said GESO members themselves have no plans to specifically directed at visiting students.

GESO organizer Evan Cobb GRD ’07, who was at the union headquarters on College and Elm streets Sunday afternoon stringing signs in preparation for picketing this morning, said he will not be teaching his intermediate German language class this week. Although Cobb said it was difficult to commit to striking because of his close relationship with students he sees in class five days a week, he said he is excited about the strike.

“The values of this union are ones we have in common with undergraduates,” Cobb said.

A GESO member who voted against a strike and who wished to remain anonymous said she is afraid to cross picket lines today to attend the large lecture class for which she serves as a TA.

“I’m a TA for a class that’s been designated as a target for them,” she said. “I’m afraid when I go in to teach, because I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But GESO organizer David Huyssen GRD ’10 said last week that the strike is not intended to antagonize undergraduates or non-striking TAs.

“We hope by maintaining an open environment on the picket lines we can encourage undergraduates, faculty and Yale employees to engage us in conversation,” Huyssen said.

GESO organizer Ilya Kliger, a seventh-year graduate student, said GESO will not ask non-teaching graduate students to forgo attending their own classes during the week.

“They will be coming to picket lines when they’re not in classes,” said Kliger, who will not hold sections this week for professor Vladimir Alexandrov’s lecture class on Tolstoy. “The ideal for these students is to talk to professors and schedule classes for later in the day, so they won’t conflict with events.”

The administration has said the strike will not sway its long-standing position against graduate student unionization.

Justin Zaremby GRD ’09 said he does not think the picket lines or rallies will cause much disruption on campus.

“I think it’s just going to be a blip, and I don’t see it having a big impact,” Zaremby said. “I don’t see it changing the University’s position in any way.”

Other speakers at today’s rallies include Local 35 president Bob Proto, Local 34 president Laura Smith, City University of New York professor Joshua Freeman and New England Carpenters Executive Committee union member Chuck Appleby.

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