The Graduate Employees and Students Organization voted to approve two resolutions in a membership meeting last night — one demanding formal recognition as a union representing a majority of non-science graduate students and the other calling for a thorough review of Yale’s use of graduate student labor for teaching and research.
After months of relative quiet on the issue of unionization, GESO members said they decided to reopen the issue in light of a piece of legislation currently being considered in Washington that would require individual corporations to recognize a “card-check” system. GESO representatives said they hope the resolutions will lead to contract negotiations with University President Richard Levin and promote a more open dialogue about the “casualization” of labor, which refers to the employment of graduate students, lecturers and other non-ladder faculty.
In a card check, a union is formed as soon as over 50 percent of the bargaining unit have signed union cards. Under current law, employers are not required to recognize a union after a successful card check.
At the meeting, attended by 100 to 150 students, GESO announced that a majority of registered graduate students in the languages and literatures, humanities and social sciences are members of the organization, which chair Melissa Mason GRD ’08 said has been relatively constant for the past five years. But while GESO spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’07 said the total number of students in the bargaining unit is about 1,200, he declined to comment on whether or not the specific number of cardholders was above 600.
“We’ve never released numbers,” Cobb said. “The important part is that here we are at a majority again and our administration really doesn’t want to deal with that … We would certainly expect that the University would engage in discussion.”
Mason said she does not expect the University will recognize GESO as a union based on this card count, which she said is “disappointing.” The significance of being officially recognized would be that the administration would have to “bargain in good faith” with GESO, she said.
Whether or not the union is recognized, Mason said, she hopes the University will act on the resolution calling for a review of the use of graduate students and workers. She said she also hopes the administration will address the issues highlighted in the group’s new platform, including health care, pay inequity and child care.
“The University could do a better job in incorporating more voices in graduate teaching, in our stake here at the University,” Mason said. “By and large, graduate students do want to have some voice.”
Graduate School Dean Jon Butler said the University does not see graduate students as employees, which would make them ineligible for unionization.
“Yale regards those enrolled in its M.A. and Ph.D. programs as students and not as employees,” Butler said.
But Mason said regardless of whether the University changes its policy on recognizing GESO, the organization will continue to work toward achieving the goals laid out in its platform.
Cobb said the time and attention recently given to the tenure review is encouraging, and he hopes a similar review will be undertaken for non-ladder faculty and graduate student teachers. Cobb said the improvement of graduate student working conditions is particularly important because it would make the University more attractive to women and minorities and increase the diversity of Yale’s teaching ranks.
Graduate School Assembly chair Ian Simon GRD ’08 said his organization is officially neutral on the issue of recognizing GESO as a union. While the GSA considers the issue of graduate student labor highly relevant to the graduate student body, GESO has taken an undisputed lead in lobbying on the issue, Simon said.
“We have not yet gotten to the point where the casualization of labor is as important to us as an organization,” Simon said. “Not to say that it isn’t an issue, but that they have made it a priority … Our goals, at the moment, do not include the issue.”
In August 2005, New York University — the only private university ever to have a union for graduate students — severed its relationship with the unit of the United Auto Workers that represented teaching assistants there. They had recognized the union following a 2002 National Labor Relations Board ruling, but the decision was reversed in a 2004 case involving Brown University.