There are two reasons why I will be voting no on the creation of a graduate student union: endless harassment and conflicts of interest.
“Do you have a moment to talk about GESO?”
They always come in pairs. They refuse to leave. Eventually, one of them emailed an administrative assistant to find out where my office is. Once they even came to my home.
Sadly these tactics are not uncommon and have been reported many times. The “organizers” try to pass it off as recruitment. As a former “organizer” wrote last spring in a letter congratulating GESO members after they rebranded themselves Local 33: “Everyone must be talked to, repeatedly. You have your numbers for every meeting, for every rally, for every action. And it is the one instance in life when taking no for an answer is always provisional. Correction: You never take no for an answer.”
This is not recruitment. It is harassment, and it is never okay.
And there are many conflicts of interest:
UNITE HERE!, which funds GESO, and which has in some way or another funded the effort to unionize Yale graduate students since 1990 (26 years!), is a federation of unions active in the United States and Canada. Its organizing tactics — similar to GESO’s — allegedly include keeping subordinates in line by using private information about them and pressuring a worker to recount her tale of sexual abuse to drum up support for unionization.
The choice to organize elections by department, though more expensive, shows how important this effort is for UNITE HERE! I’ve been told that the cost per department is up to $50,000. Never mind that this approach seems unnecessary for a group that has (so they claim) overwhelming support among graduate students. In any case, the new strategy is pretty transparent: Pick a few departments they’re sure they can win, then use that momentum to carry the others. And they’re doing it this way likely because in a past election GESO had been defeated even amid accusations that GESO had manipulated the vote in their favor.
UNITE HERE! (the product of a merger between the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union) seems an improbable source of funding for a graduate student union. The union at Rutgers, for example, is organized by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations and is allied with local professor and teacher unions. A closer look reveals a different picture: Local 34 and Local 35, two other worker unions at Yale that are part of UNITE HERE!, have a substantial presence on New Haven’s Board of Alders and can effectively derail Yale’s construction plans.
Knowing that a graduate student union would have the power to further cripple the University (as a GESO strike has done in the past), and knowing about the outside interests funding the union, it seems like this would be the ultimate power play in the town-gown conflicts over the past few years.
There are other questions related to unionization itself: Would we, as employees, lose certain advantages we possess as students? How would unionization affect relationships between graduate students and their advisers? Is forming a union the only way to address graduate student interests and concerns? But they union out of the group that has harassed us and disregarded our privacy for over 26 years. Do we simply trust that an outside group that we did not choose as our organizer, which has spent so much money in the effort to unionize, which stands to benefit so much in its conflict with Yale from our unionizing, will have our best interest in mind and will not use us as political pawns and risk our current contract with Yale based on this trust?
The answer to me seems clear: No.
Alexandru Georgescu is a graduate student in the Physics Department. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .