As debate over graduate student unionization at Yale continues, the growing opposition to unofficial union Local 33 was bolstered yesterday by the unexpected revival of GASO, an irreverent student group that parodied and criticized graduate student organizers in the late 1990s.
After about a decade of inactivity, GASO — which emerged in opposition to the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, known as GESO — has new leadership and a new website. On Tuesday, Alex Georgescu GRD ’17 and Elizabeth Mo GRD ’18, former president of the Graduate and Professional Students Senate, unveiled a revamped GASO site documenting complaints about the political affiliations and recruitment tactics of Local 33, the current incarnation of Yale’s graduate student union.
The return of GASO is the latest development in a surge of graduate student opposition to the union. Last week, the Graduate Student Assembly broke its yearslong silence on Local 33, voting to denounce the union’s organizing tactics and election strategy.
Local 33 filed for labor elections in 10 individual departments in late August, shortly after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students at private universities have the right to unionize. Yale is contesting the union’s “microunit” strategy in labor court in Hartford.
Mo said GASO is not intended to oppose graduate student unionization in general but rather to persuade students to vote against Local 33 if the group wins the right to hold departmental elections.
“I’m not trying to argue if you should be pro-union or anti-union,” Mo said. “I’m trying to convince people to be anti-Local 33.”
The GASO website features links to news articles criticizing Local 33 and GESO, as well as testimonials from students claiming they were harassed or intimidated by union recruiters who cornered them in the library or forced authorization cards into their hands.
“Although we had previously warned the organizers of Local 33 that entering our lab space uninvited was disruptive to our research, they continued to harass us in our lab, in the corridors and in our offices,” one anonymous testimonial states. “The presence of Local 33 has negatively impacted all of the research done in our lab and compromised the integrity of the science we are producing.”
The website also highlights other alleged misdeeds by Local 33, including its efforts to take credit for administrative changes — such as the provision of sixth-year funding for graduate students in 2014 — that the site says were actually secured by the GSA. In another section, the site calls for Local 33 to disaffiliate from UNITE HERE, the umbrella organization that also sponsors Yale’s blue- and pink-collar unions.
Georgescu said the GASO site was designed to present information about Local 33 that many graduate students do not have the time to gather on their own. He added that proponents of Local 33 often overreact to criticism of their union.
“The language that’s used very often in order to respond to anyone who has concerns about [Local 33] is often just inappropriate,” Georgescu said. “It does not make sense to me when people use language like ‘reactionary’ when we’re not really arguing over important things, like ‘do you get a pension?’ We’re not workers in a factory who might get injured and then get fired for it.”
In a statement to the News, Local 33 chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said the union “respect[s] our colleagues sharing their perspectives” but remains focused on securing union elections.
The history of GASO dates back to the late 1990s, when many graduate students expressed complaints similar to those circulating today about the recruitment tactics of the unofficial graduate student union.
According to John Gehman GRD ’03, the student who helped establish the original GASO website, the idea for GASO was conceived by a group of graduate students frustrated with GESO during Friday night happy hour at a local bar at the end of the ’90s.
“Over somewhat inebriated conversation, we thought that it was perhaps not crazy to be thinking the way we were,” Gehman said. “And the following Monday morning when sobriety returned along with polysyllabic words, we made a few webpages and it took off.”
Gehman, who studied molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale and now lives in Australia, said GASO was designed to show support for the “silent majority” of students who opposed the aggressive tactics of union organizers at Yale.
From the start, GASO was crafted as a tongue-in-cheek response to GESO, he said. It was “a non-organization,” with no membership, no recruitment and no pretense of speaking for the entire graduate student body. The group’s website featured periodic updates on the unionization debate at Yale. An image of a gas mask was posted on the front page.
“What was particularly important as an approach to opposing GESO was to maintain humor,” Gehman said. “One thing that GESO certainly didn’t have was humor. GASO was meant to be a facetious play on the word GESO and to reference the noxious air that they keep spitting all the time.”
In the spring of 2003, some GESO members went on strike against Yale, in solidarity with thousands of janitors, dining hall workers and secretaries whose contract negotiations with the University had stalled. That episode — as well as the group’s surprising defeat in an unofficial union election that May — damaged GESO’s reputation among faculty members and graduate students.
“After the big events in 2003 … GESO kind of quieted down, and it kind of just went off the radar of graduate students,” said Matt Glassman GRD ’07, who ran the GASO website for four years after Gehman graduated.
When Glassman left Yale in 2007, the original GASO site no longer seemed necessary, he said. GESO was fading from the scene, and a different group, calling itself “At What Cost?”, had picked up the anti-union mantle, Glassman added.
But over the past few years, the re-emergence of the graduate student union movement has given new life to anti-GESO voices at Yale.
According to Mo, the new incarnation of GASO may take a more active approach in the graduate student union debate than the original version of the group. Mo said she could even see GASO turning into an alternative graduate student union — a more transparent, less aggressive option than Local 33.
“This definitely has that potential, but we need a younger crop of people to be involved with this,” she said, adding that the group would need clearer goals as well as a new name, “ideally one that actually means something.”
But for now, Mo said she is focused on using the GASO website to advocate against Local 33 in the departmental elections currently awaiting approval from the NLRB. Still, she acknowledged that organizing formal opposition to Local 33 may be difficult.
“The type of people who don’t want to be bothered by Local 33 don’t want to be bothered [at all],” she said. “And it’s hard to organize people who don’t want to be bothered.”
GESO was founded in 1990.