David Yaffe-Bellany

Leaders of the unofficial graduate student union Local 33 radiated confidence at a rally on Wednesday night, even as Yale filed an appeal challenging the legal basis of the historic labor elections scheduled next week.

“I believe that we can win,” shouted Local 33 Chairman Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 from the pulpit at United Church on the Green. “In just over a week, we are going to finally win our union.”

But on the same day as the rally, Yale filed a request for review with the National Labor Relations Board appealing the NLRB’s decision last month to allow departmental union elections.

On Thursday, Feb. 23, graduate students will go to the polls to vote on whether to bargain collectively with the University in nine separate departmental elections, the first legally binding student union vote in Yale’s history. The elections will go forward despite Yale’s appeal, although the NLRB may decide to delay counting the votes until the dispute is resolved.

On Wednesday, hundreds of graduate students, undergraduate supporters and members of Yale’s two blue-collar unions gathered in United Church to pledge their support for Local 33 amid a sea of orange balloons and streamers.

The rally featured a live band and speeches from Mayor Toni Harp and New Haven Rising Director Scott Marks, as well as DeMaurice Smith, the CEO of the National Football League Players Association.

“We’re finally getting to vote — it feels very historic,” Local 33 Co-Chair Robin Canavan told the News after the rally. “People are really, really excited to finally vote. It’s a week away, so we’re just ready to get it over with and focus on contract negotiations.”

The elections next Thursday, which will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 4 to 6 p.m., represent the latest chapter in a monthslong legal dispute between the union and Yale, as well as the culmination of decades of advocacy by graduate student union supporters at the University.

In her speech, Harp praised Local 33 for joining forces with labor groups like New Haven Rising and Yale unions Locals 34 and 35.

“Tonight we demonstrate strength in numbers, unity of spirit and a common commitment to core values in the American workplace,” Harp said. “Next Thursday’s election is the next milestone along what has been a long journey for many members of Local 33.”

On Jan. 24, the National Labor Relations Board ordered elections in nine of Yale’s academic departments, overriding the objections of University administrators. The nine departments that will hold union elections are East Asian Languages and Literatures, English, Geology and Geophysics, History, History of Art, Mathematics, Physics, Political Science and Sociology.

The elections for East Asian Languages and Literatures, English, History, History of Art, Political Science and Sociology are scheduled to take place in the Dwight Hall common room, and Math, Physics and Geology and Geophysics will vote in Founders Hall on Prospect Street.

But Yale remains convinced that the NLRB’s decision was incorrect.

“Yale continues to believe that Local 33’s petitions for these nine microunits are inappropriate, and that the regional director’s decision was incorrect and without precedent in higher education,” University spokesman Tom Conroy told the News in a statement.

In a statement to the News Greenberg wrote in response to Yale’s appeal, “Yale administration has plenty of lawyers. We have plenty of votes. Democracy wins.”

And in interviews at the rally, graduate students expressed confidence that Local 33 would win the departmental elections and negotiate a contract with the University.

“It’s been an unnecessarily long process,” said Alexander Schweinsberg GRD ’20, a union supporter in the History Department. “Everyone’s really busy, but they’re eager to see this through.”

After filing for departmental elections last August, Local 33 has faced significant opposition from graduate students skeptical of the piecemeal strategy. In October, the Graduate Student Assembly voted to oppose Local 33, even as it remained neutral on the broader question of whether graduate students should unionize.

But at the rally, leaders of Local 33 pledged that the union would fight for improved mental health care, equal pay for equal work and child care subsidies for graduate student parents.

“We are doing it for one another, and we organize because we know a different reality is possible,” Canavan said.