A decadelong push for affordable child care for students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has been shelved by the University amid the upcoming graduate student union elections, which are slated for next week.
Last year, a childcare assistance rollout was delayed due partly to the University’s fear of legal repercussions in advance of possible union elections.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 1964 labor case that employers are not allowed to offer benefits to employees while a union election is pending, as it might be construed as a method of persuading employees to vote against a union. Local 33, Yale’s unofficial graduate student union, could file an unfair labor practice charge against the University if Yale announced new child care subsidies and if Local 33 had reason to believe that the benefits were meant to reduce union support.
“There are concerns about the University making certain things available to us as the union elections are impending,” said Graduate Student Assembly Chairman Nicholas Vincent GRD ’17. “It could very easily be looked at as some form of bribery or coercion.”
Though Local 33 Chairman Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 promised last fall not to file a legal complaint against Yale if the University announced child care subsidies, the University has not announced any new funding to support the 4.5 percent of graduate students who have children. Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley told the News in fall 2016 that affordable child care was her top fundraising priority.
On Feb. 23, graduate students will go to the polls to determine whether or not they will bargain collectively with the University in nine separate academic departments. According to Vincent, the issue of child care is complicated by the number of parents in the nine separate departments, whether or not a department votes to unionize and the duration of the negotiations about child care assistance.
Still, with the union elections less than a week away, it remains unclear what will come of child care assistance in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, regardless of the outcome of the vote.
In August, the GSA released a report on child care which said that not only are child care options in New Haven limited, but they are beyond the budget of a graduate student stipend. The report included data from 124 GSAS respondents to the Graduate and Professional Student Senate’s subsidy program application. It found that 15 percent of respondents take on debt to pay for child care, with an average debt per year of $8,600. The report also stated that some Yale-affiliated day care centers may have waitlists that last several years.
Bryan Yoon GRD ’18, a new father who worked on the report, said the GSAS already receives stipends from the University for entire family health care, the only such graduate school among Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and others. But that child care remains unaffordable and unavailable for many, he said.
“I’m not going to be able to drive to Hamden, drop off my kid, go to school and pick him up at the end of the day,” Yoon said.
Connor Williams GRD ’21, also a parent and a History Department representative to the GSA, said he anticipates that Local 33, if voted into union status, would make child care one of the main elements of any contract with Yale. He added that he anticipates that any child care subsidies negotiated in such a contract would be extended to a broad Yale graduate student parent community, including both teaching and nonteaching graduate students.
Still, Vincent said it is difficult to know what the time frame will be for parents who are waiting for assistance. He pointed out that complications could arise with student parents in some departments being unionized and others not.
“That gets back to the whole central issue of how this department by department approach is confusing to a lot of people,” Vincent said. “It’s not treating us as the one community that we are at the graduate school.”
The Yale Health Plan offers funding for graduate student families with dependent children under 26.