GESO strike reflects years of TA tension

Prospective members of the Class of 2009 will likely be greeted with a scene this morning that might not show up on an admissions Web site: — a group of Yale teaching assistants kicking off a five-day strike with hopes to sway the Yale administration to recognize their group as a graduate student union.

The strike, the fifth job action in 15 years for the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, will include humanities and social science teaching assistants abstaining from teaching their sections this week. The group has said it wants to form a union to facilitate discussions with Yale administrators about health care, child care, and pay equity concerns. But the University has maintained its stance, supported by a July 2004 National Labor Relations Board ruling, that graduate students are principally students and not statutory employees and therefore have no legal right to form unions.

GESO has been discussing a possible strike since the results of a card count last December in which GESO claimed a 60 percent majority of support for a union among fall semester graduate TAs in the humanities and social sciences. GESO chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 said she hopes the strike this week will bring these issues to the administration’s attention.

“I do think this five-day strike does allow us to highlight issues of importance to graduate students on a national scale,” Reynolds said.

The administration also has said it has made gains in recent years on the very issues GESO claims it has failed to address.

“Yale and Columbia are the only institutions that currently pay 50 percent of the health premiums for married students and families, and in advance of demands from outside,” Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said. “Yale departments have been working on diversity for considerable time in areas where there are limited numbers of minorities in faculty ranks.”

GESO’s reputation is mixed among both graduate students and undergraduates. Some graduate students have said they oppose GESO’s aggressive organizing tactics. A former GESO member said organizers had been pressuring members to back a possible strike, often visiting members during sections and making house calls.

“It’s very hard to argue with the people who are organizing you, because they’re having these conversations all the time, so their arguments are incredibly well-honed, so there’s this combative feeling to begin with,” he said. “There were a lot of people who said, ‘well, I just sort of go along and try to find the path of least resistance. I’ll do this so as to avoid the argument, avoid the further harassments.'”

But other graduate students think GESO is necessary to pressure the administration into addressing students’ concerns. Tzvi Novick GRD ’09 said issues such as health care and child care influenced his vote in favor of a TA strike.

“The point is to enable graduate students to be able to do their work effectively, not having to choose between having a family and being able to succeed academically,” said Novick, who said he is married but does not have children.

Philip Olson ’08, an undergraduate who belongs to an ad hoc organization called the Committee for Freedom, said he agrees with the University’s position to deny GESO union recognition.

“They’re here as teaching assistants,” Olson said. “They’re here to learn how to be teachers eventually. They’re still learning.”

But members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee have continued to stand behind GESO, and will join the group in rallies and picket lines this week.

“GESO is standing up for my education and the values of my University,” UOC member Josh Eidelson ’06 said. “Undergraduates will be picketing with GESO.”

The University has stated that the strike this week will not alter its stance against unionization. The group last went on strike in March 2003, when they joined locals 34 and 35, the University’s two largest union locals, and Local 1199, a union of dietary workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, in a five day job action.

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