The spirit of a union is to unify its members, but Local 33 is carving up graduate students. Its strategy to form micro-unions in 10 — now nine — departments while simultaneously silencing 92 percent of graduate students amounts to nothing less than voter suppression. Effective unions work best when they are inclusive and when their leadership listens to everyone affected by their decisions. Local 33 is not a unifying or inclusive union. And so, for adopting this undemocratic strategy, for promoting the unfair allocation of resources and for other disappointing behavior by Local 33, I urge graduate students to vote “no” on Thursday. It’s not just that we can do better than Local 33 — we actually deserve better.
In 2003, Local 33, then known as the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, organized its own, largely symbolic vote to unionize students under their banner. This resulted in a decisive loss. Students of all departments voted against the opaque structure of their leadership and against their recruitment methods.
Local 33 has since adopted an aggressive membership drive and sought to gerrymander the voting process in an attempt to ensure its own passage, but have not addressed the core failings that our fellow students voted against in 2003. Their “recruitment” tactics include showing up at students’ homes and offices uninvited, often in such numbers and so frequently that many students reported feeling harassed or intimidated. In early 2016, women, the LGBTQ community, students of color and their allies wrote an open letter denouncing such tactics and urged GESO to change. GESO promised they would, but, as usual, never fulfilled their promise. Instead, they opted to rebrand as Local 33.
Local 33 has now abandoned any effort to gain the goodwill of all students and adopted a divide-and-conquer approach. They cherry-picked nine departments with the highest concentration of Local 33 supporters. Even within these departments, not everyone can vote; only current teaching fellows can. No other union at any other university has tried to use this micro-bargaining approach.
Why go through such lengths to achieve this level of voter suppression? Why is Local 33 so unpopular? Students are critical of Local 33’s entanglement in New Haven politics, its recruitment tactics and opaque leadership structure. Local 33 has failed to address any of these issues in its nearly 30-year history.
Some may argue that the current approach will give representation to students who want it, while leaving those who do not want it alone. This is not true. Every graduate student at Yale will be affected. Every year, student government leaders advocate on behalf of students for additional resources for all graduate students. The money required to fulfill these requests can be significant. There are competing appeals from across the University. But the proposed union will advocate on behalf of its members, not all graduate students. At its core, Local 33 would institutionalize a group advocating for the disproportionate allocation of resources amongst graduate students in which one subset gains at the expense of the rest of us. Is this a strategy we want to endorse? No, it’s not.
We can do better than Local 33. Given their 27 years of activity, it is clear Local 33 will never evolve into the union we want or need it to be. Local 33 has rejected inclusivity and ignored its constituents. How can it act in the best interests of graduate students with such behavior?
I envision a union in which departments are represented equally and all students have a voice. One that is transparent and where advocacy focuses on the betterment of the entire community, not just for a select group. We do not need to vote “yes” on the first union that comes along — assuming you even have the opportunity to vote. What about a union that actually stands up for the best interests of graduate students?
To the small, but powerful minority of students who can vote tomorrow: Vote “no.” And let’s get to work building a better, more inclusive union.
Elizabeth Mo is a graduate student in pharmacology, co-chair of GASO and the former president of the Graduate & Professional Student Senate (GPSS). Contact her at email@example.com.