Grad students push for union

It has happened year after year, like clockwork, for the past eight years. And on Wednesday, it happened again — the Graduate Employees and Students Organization urged the University to accept the group as a union.

GESO staged a rally outside the Hall of Graduate Studies on Wednesday afternoon to demand that the University listen to the group’s requests, including increased job support and direct communication with administrators. GESO, which now comprises more than half of Yale’s graduate students, has made similar demands for more than a decade but has been perpetually rebuffed by University administrators.

Organizers said they are optimistic that the Democrat-controlled 111th U.S. Congress will pass legislation forcing the University to accept GESO as a union.

“While Yale has not recognized our right to organize, the federal government soon will,” GESO Chair Ariana Paulson GRD ’11 said to the 60 students and supporters gathered at the rally.

In a January interview with the News, Paulson said prospects for graduate student unions have improved since 2004. That year, the National Labor Relations Board prevented graduate teaching assistants at Brown University from joining the United Auto Workers union.

Last year, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced legislation in Congress that would give graduate students at private universities the right to unionize. The Senate and House bills never made it to a vote; they both died in committee.

A spokesman for the House Committee on Education and Labor, which Miller chairs, said Wednesday that Miller plans to reintroduce the bill soon, though it is unclear exactly when. Kennedy — who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension — did not respond to a phone request for comment Wednesday.

Paulson and GESO supporters said the presence of both a Democratic majority in Congress and the labor-friendly Obama administration bodes well for the bill’s passage.

At the 40-minute rally, four graduate students who spoke asked the University to increase its support of graduate students seeking work, especially in the face of a bearish academic job market.

“I, like many others, was looking for a job in my field, and, like many others, I did not find a job in my field,” said Lisa Pinley-Covert GRD ’09, who researches Latin American history.

Jon Butler, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said in a letter to the graduate school in January that administrators are aware of current job difficulty and will provide guidance to students seeking professorships.

GESO organizer Sarah Egan GRD ’10 said she thought the rally drew a strong turnout, especially considering that planners changed the rally date from Monday to Wednesday due to snow conditions.

A student from Ireland, Egan said “it made sense” for her to join GESO in 2004 because in her country, graduate students, or “tutors,” can unionize.

Excitement outside HGS did not affect four graduate students studying inside. Indrani Saran GRD ’10 of the International Relations department said she did not know that GESO existed.

Saran, who has never worked as a teaching assistant, said if some students felt their needs were not being met by the administration, it could be worthwhile to join GESO.

“But, as far as I know,” she added, “the TAs are paid pretty well.”

In January, Butler announced that despite cutting its operating budget, the Graduate School would increase the living stipend for its doctoral students for 2009-’10.

GESO formed after graduate school members of the group T.A. Solidarity voted to seek unionization in 1990.

Divya Subrahmanyam contributed reporting.


  • 100K

    Where is the proof that GESO represents a majority of graduate students? Why aren't they providing any details on their membership numbers? I find it very hard to believe that they have significant numbers in the physical and life sciences.

    They have never tried to sponsor any sort of official grad school wide vote, at least in recent memory. I can also testify that they don't represent a single student in my department in the sciences. If they really want to prove that they represent a majority of students, then they should ask for an official vote from the GPSS or GSA.

  • Anonymous

    geso is a terrible organization. go away already!

  • GRD

    Victor, Victor, Victor (and Divya)--nice "reporting."

    "GESO, which now comprises more than half of Yale’s graduate students…"

    Could you please, please do a little research here? Define "graduate students" at least (given that GESO does not consider "professional school" students--or even GRD science students--as "graduate students).

    Also: graduate students already have representation through the Graduate Student Assembly.

    Nest: GESO has been defeated time and again by students themselves, the worst and most embarrassing defeat coming in 2003, when GESO lost its own rigged election (seriously--check it out in, say, the YDN archives, Mr. Reporter-man! Here's and example:

    Last: do you understand what an awesomely sweet deal grad students get? Tuition waivers, generous stipends, OJT, and at the end of it all? A Yale degree. (Does suck to have to drink all those lattes, though.)

    Try a little balance in your life and stop being a pure mouthpiece for a discredited, unwanted, outside-funded (i.e., definitely NOT grass-roots) sham organization.

    For cryin' out loud won't SOMEONE stick a stake in GESO's heart-substitute?

  • Anonymous

    they sponsered a campus wide vote and lost 2 years ago. that genius david assouline was behind it. no one is guaranteed a job. wake up.

  • Ha!

    The reporter is such a tool. Why no mention of GSA? Why no research? This is not reporting, this is the passing along of received "wisdom."

    What? The author(s) couldn't make deadline or something?

  • Anonymous

    without degrading graduate students and grad school life- ie: "does suck to have to drink all those lattes…"- yes, yale grad students are in a great position:

    -25k, 12 month stipend to pursue their academic passion with leading scholars in their field
    -access to one of the best library systems in the world
    -medical coverage
    -the chance to get thousands of dollars in extra funding through various yale sources like the ycias to support their dissertation research

    geso does NOT represent the majority of graduate students. certainly not in the science and i would even say probably not in the social sciences and humanities.

  • GRD

    Here is a prior YDN view of GESO, well worth reading:

    Some highlights:
    "Fast forward to one month ago when, at GESO's fall [2004] membership meeting on Dec. 14, an impressive lineup of local politicians, union leaders and GESO members jubilantly trumpeted the organization's newfound legitimacy as a result of a "card count" vote.

    "No strangers to flawed electoral politics, GESO organizers had once again set up a vote involving a small population of graduate students in favor of unionization…

    "[A] 12-week process of soliciting names from a predetermined list of eligible "voters" had finally created the results GESO organizers long desired. Sixty percent of 521 eligible TAs in the humanities, social science and language departments voted in favor of unionization.

    "[But] the card count was hardly representative of the whole graduate student body. In an effort to exclude departments predominately opposed to unionization -- most notably those in the natural sciences -- GESO changed the eligibility requirements, denying the right to vote to hundreds who differed with the group's agenda.

    "…GESO publicity contact Rachel Sulkes [stated] that those up on Science Hill had simply "defined themselves as outside our interests" -- a well-crafted PR term meaning that they disagreed with GESO and were therefore excluded.

    "[Card count] is hardly a fair way of gauging the graduate community's interest in unionization. The card count allowed for the possibility of intimidation and coercion…

    "[Many graduate students reported] the GESO movement had successfully created a "cult-like" environment of intimidation in departments where support for unionization was high. GESO's brazen recruiting techniques and persistent calls, which often violated a "no-contact" list, stopped "barely short of harassment" in the words of one graduate student who wished to remain anonymous.

    "For an organization that claims to represent graduate students, it seems that in reality, GESO represents an underwhelming few."

    Now THAT is reporting!

  • genetics phd '12

    GESO DOES NOT have the support of the life sciences grad students. Only the lazy and hyper-liberal humanities students are for this.

  • Anonymous

    geso has ruined american studies and african american studies and i bet many other departments, too. if youre not one of them, youre a class elitist, youre a sexist, youre a tool for levin, your a racist, youre whats preventing progress from happening at yale blah blah blah blah (yawn) blah.

  • @#7

    That is an opinion piece…

  • Alum '81

    The previous posts raise a good point. The unions can easily intimidate employees when a "card count" or "card check" system is used, as there is no secret ballot. Unfortunately the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress want to institute this on a nation wide basis. So much for the sanctity of the secret ballot that is the foundation of our democracy. One should also note that the most highly unionized business in our country--the auto industry--have been failing for years and are just about bankrupt.

  • Ha!

    #10 is correct, this IS an opinion piece; however, it is filed under NEWS, not OPINION. Seems like #7 is SPOT ON.

  • @#12,7

    actually - it is labeled as and formatted like an opinion piece…

  • Hondo

    Well this explains it ..More peed off Grads around,stomping ass thru the communities, some sort of Union hissy fit
    brat terrible til it gets its way

  • Anonymous

    trust me, even the humanities students are sick of geso. they're grad students who aren't smart enough to make it in their field.

  • Alum07

    Posters 1 & 8 are spot on. GESO gets swatted away in the physical & life sciences like a pesky fly. Signs were posted in labs warning GESO not to knock. Personally i find this amusing. As a ph d. student at another ivy, i can say that grad students (at least the doctoral students) at the ivies have got it pretty good: minimal teaching requirement (which you can later use to embellish your resume), health insurance, etc. Although I'd prefer if my rent were lower, my stipend allows me to pay rent and pay off my loans. GESO's sense of entitlement is at once childish and out-of-touch with reality. GESO members need to be reminded that their pay is not that far off from what new public school teachers make.

  • @#13

    Uh, no, it is recorded under "Campus News" and written by a "Staff Reporter."

    Winston, how many fingers am I holding up?

  • Haydon

    It should be noted that not all humanities PhDs are "lazy" or "hyper-liberal." Nor do all of us support GESO. I have opposed it ever since arriving at Yale. Its claims have always seemed to me to be shrill and unpersuasive.

  • @#17

    This is the start of the opinions piece (I don't see Campus News, or Staff Reporter. Do you?):

    Earth to GESO: Efforts to unionize are lost cause

    Keith Urbahn
    Published Wednesday, January 12, 2005

    Every year, "Flat-Earth" fanatics from around the world gather to celebrate and discuss the "non-spherical nature of the Earth." For this bizarre coterie of Biblical literalists and conspiracy theorists, the commonly held view of our planet as a sphere is but a myth. As a "Flat-Earther" Web site unflinchingly proclaims, "the Earth is, in fact, flat and has five sides." Confronted with incontrovertible evidence otherwise -- satellite images, gravitational laws and common sense -- the Flat-Earthers remain staunch in their defense of, well, a flat earth.

    Even at Yale, a professed bastion of reason and sanity, we have our own merry group of Flat-Earthers -- people who, despite the reality proved to them by overwhelming evidence, persist in adhering to their absurd notions. Our lovable but deluded Flat-Earthers are the members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO), the self-proclaimed representatives of graduate students.

  • krogus

    What job shortage? The problem is the glut of PhDs wanting to be college professors. Anyone bright enough to sign up for a PhD should be bright enough to know this.

  • GRD

    @#19: Ah! My bad: I thought you were referencing the initial article, not my posting of the other piece. And, yes, while it is an opinion piece (or, more likely, a column), the author in that case did some actual investigation to back up his claims.

  • Anonymous

    I'll admit it. I signed a GESO card. I am technically part of the organization. But after that disclaimer, there's a reason that I'm not involved beyond signing the card. The GESO organizers I know are so out of touch, spoiled, and selfish rich kid, I can't stand hearing their voice. Maybe there are a few organizers in the group who didn't go to an exclusive or ivy undergrad and who don't have rich parents helping bankroll their political activities. If so, they are not making themselves known. You know what's funny… talking to a "labor organizer" who has never supported themself financially. If you ever worked a day in your life, and been responsible for yourself, you too would not tolerate a pushy weekly phone call to check up. GESO organizer, you're not my parent. Discover this thing called "free panlists" and "posting flyers" and "public meetings at regularly scheduled times," but please undiscover my cell phone number. It's intrusive. It's bullying. It's harassment, and intimidation. Every time I talk to "my" contact in GESO, it just feels like that same old dynamic I find too many times in my life: white people telling me they know better than I do what is best for me.

    We grad students deserve the right to organize. I'm pro union in general. We Ph.D students owe so much to past organizers at Yale and in general, for what is good about the deals that we already have. That is something everyone here is forgetting to mention: we have a good deal that many are happy with, but we have this so much thanks to past activism. When people have problems with their employment or their department, it would be great to have an organizing body in place to help them. It is always good, and valuable, to have a collective bargaining front. There are many ways that the union still has opportunities to make positive changes for Yale, such as doing more with the professional school graduate students and not just Ph.D's, and also working in solidarity with other local labor unions representing the staff of Yale (cook, janitor, lawn care to name a few) who are not treated as well by the university as the Ph.D's and faculty get. For those who find the unions irrelevant, remember, your pay and privileges are not secure, and you have the right to make claims on the terms of your contracts and to negotiate, always.

    But do I want to work with the people who are involved with GESO? NO! I can't stand them. I was so excited to get involved at first, but that didn't last long. I have never left a conversation with GESO members when I didn't feel completely shut down or disregarded. They don't listen, they are "holier than thou." My political beliefs are even very similar or identical to theirs as far as I can tell. I agree with them on many counts, and they still annoy me beyond measure. For those of you who don't share similar left, radical politics, I just ask you to remember: all of us on the left aren't as condescending and pushy as GESO. This is not a correlative to their politics, but to the individuals involved. One of my biggest disagreements with GESO is how they treat other grad students. Obviously all of you are also feeling that because you don't like them either… it surely doesn't help if you disagree with them on some stances… but trust me, even if you agree with them, they are still annoying.

    GESO, I WANT a union. I WANT to be an active, working, contributing member of a graduate student worker union, but you're so annoying that I can't bring myself to form solidarity with you. I'm dismayed that we grad workers aren't officially organized. Yet, it breaks my heart that the specific individuals prattling about GESO are the ones who have made themselves in charge trying to get organizing done. This begs the question: what about personal initiative? Why aren't I taking more involvement on if I am so annoyed? if you asked this, just try sitting in a room with GESO for 2 minutes and you will see why. Other commenters, would you be interested in forming a union that actually represents grad students, and isn't just a burr in your britches? Have you ever wanted to unionize but felt alienated or annoyed by GESO? Comment here, maybe we can start a real People's Union of sorts.

    I hope the GESO members, especially the shrillest and most vocal ones, are reading this because maybe they will get it through that they you are weakening yourselves by being pushy, and paternalistic. GESO, when enough people are saying something to you, LISTEN. You are not infallible. You are NOT representing the interests of the broader student community. You can be as you are, or you can try to rep "the majority," but as it is now, both aren't happening. Most op ed pieces on YDN share a balance in favor of, and against, the opinion. No matter what the opinion is. GESO, pay attention to the fact that no one has yet come out in support of you, not here and not in any of the other recent articles on this. LISTEN. Don't claim to be the voice of everyone when you JUST DON'T LISTEN.

  • Yale grad

    Reality check from outside the ivory tower: When I left Yale and earned my PhD from UVA in 2000 and guess what? I had to PAY TUITION! The horror of it! I had to take loans to pay for things like my housing and food! Like a knife in the back! When I was a TA I received an hourly wage! Slavery, I tell you! I worked 3 jobs to make ends meet and still wrote my dissertation! Capitalist pigs! I had to pay for my own health insurance! Stingy university anti-white man racists down south! When I graduated I lived simply and paid off my loans in 3 years! Whoa!

    Come on GESO: $25K, no tuition, health insurance, etc., etc. You're doing pretty well.

  • Hmmm

    Much of what #22 says is true but for, in my experience, one thing: I have found those most interested in GESO to have some weird inferiority complex vis-a-vis Yale; that is, they usually come from some (how shall I put this?) somewhat less prestigious background. Indeed, those from more substantive schools, at least in the non-humanities (which may be the root issue here), are entirely dismissive of GESO entirely.

  • #22

    #24, the GESO members I have met personally, which I don't think is very many, were from either Ivy undergraduate backgrounds or other exclusive and expensive Seven Sisters and top 20 type schools.

    I have to call you out on your elitism though. Although I haven't met any GESO members from working class backgrounds, it would not surprise me if GESO also attracts students who truly need the support of a union for collective bargaining for wages and working conditions. Unions could be attractive to students who come from a working class family and have strong union affinity already. This isn't a "weird inferiority complex" about Yale. It's being smart and strong enough to stand up for themselves and negotiate.

    As annoying as GESO can be, when I read things like what you just wrote, I can see their point. Yale is full of fools from "prestigious" backgrounds who JUST DON'T COMPREHEND why it is important or necessary to have a union. When you don't have a pedigree to fall back on, you want an organized body of support.

  • #4

    @#1 - get a life

    @#3 - i definitely agree, although my favorite is actually BAR's mashed potato and bacon!

  • Yale Prof

    If GESO were to get its way, grad students would be treated like employees not scholars. This was my experience at Michigan where grad student unionization led to more time diverted away from my studies and the same kind of poisonous interactions that we see here between the administration and the staff unions.

    The 2003 vote and the intense pressure/goon tactics used on students to sign up is a case in point. The organizers are either naive or simply don't care if they louse up a system that, by and large, works extremely well.

  • GESO

    we know you are obsessively reading these posts. go away. the last 3 years w/o you were great. you're like a needy-ex. get over it, we're just not that in to you.

  • oseg

    Geso does not like you either, just the green stuff baby

  • weut

    Please stay away and keep working on your dissertations, GESO.

    Funny how the last wave of recruits from the last active years in 2004 or so have risen in the ranks. I thank you for the last three years of relative inactivity, and hope that you don't try to dig at the old scabs on your way out.

    GESO doesn't represent a majority of GSAS. Even *if* they did based on card counts at one point, that action has got to have some sort of statute of limitations. If GESO really wanted to prove their right to represent us, they should get cards re-signed in 2009, or try the election gambit again.

    Good with that, kids.

  • Anonymous

    A student from Ireland, Egan said “it made sense” for her to join GESO in 2004 because in her country, graduate students, or “tutors,” can unionize.

    What blind support of copycat policy from someone supposedly independent enough for a research career. Ireland breeds terrorists, too. If all we're doing is copying Ireland, let's go all the way.

    Why is it that GESO never seems to have any ideas except to copy others? The recruiter who spent months harassing me kept returning to the shining example of Cuba. I was supposedly meant to be enthused by the idea of free health care in return for minority rule over an oppressed population.

    I have to wonder about any admissions process that chooses such stupidly complicit thinkers as PhD students.