Eight members of the graduate student union Local 33 began an indefinite, collective fast in front of University President Peter Salovey’s home on Tuesday in an effort to persuade Yale to begin collective bargaining.
Local 33 Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, Co-chair Robin Canavan GRD ’19, Camille Cole GRD ’20, Charles Decker GRD ’18, Lukas Moe GRD ’19, Julia Powers GRD ’19, Emily Sessions GRD ’19 and Jifeng Shen GRD ’18 sat onstage at a rally on Hillhouse Avenue to commence the union’s “Fast Against Slow.”
“What Yale could not stop, they are cynically trying to slow,” Greenberg read from a pamphlet distributed at the rally. “Yale wants to make us wait and wait and wait … until we give up and go away. We have committed ourselves to waiting without eating.”
Earlier this month, Local 33 — a subgroup of the international labor union UNITE HERE — demanded that Yale begin labor negotiations on April 25. On April 21, 41 ballots in the Political Science and East Asian Languages and Literatures departments that were “under challenge” with the National Labor Relations Board were thrown out. The decision brought the number of departments unionized via Local 33 in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences from six to eight.
At Tuesday’s protest, UNITE HERE Vice President and Democratic National Committee Vice Chair Maria Elena Durazo told Local 33 members and supporters that she stands in solidarity with them.
“I came to thank you and congratulate you for not waiting,” Durazo said. “Yale wants you to wait. Those in power always want the rest of us to wait. … Refusing to wait is how the rest of us get power.”
In a statement to the News, University spokesman Tom Conroy described Local 33’s bargaining request as premature and said the hunger strike was “unwarranted by the circumstances.”
“The University cannot compel anyone to refrain from this activity, but strongly urges that students not put their health at risk or encourage others to do so,” Conroy said.
Local 33 and Yale are currently engaged in multiple legal disputes and have not begun any official negotiations. The University’s request for review of an NLRB decision that allowed Local 33 to hold elections in nine separate departments remains pending in court.
Yale’s legal team is also attempting to file a request for review, which would challenge an August NLRB ruling that graduate students at private universities qualify as workers.
In a video detailing the eight graduate students’ fast, Moe said he hopes the fast will “convey the urgency of the situation” to the University. The video included statements of support from James Lawson, strategy committee chair of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers’ Strike and Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farmworkers Association.
Nicholas Vincent GRD ’17, the chairman of the Graduate Student Assembly, said he was surprised that Local 33 had resorted to a hunger strike and expressed hope that the eight students participating would receive proper medical supervision.
“A hunger strike is a thing that comes to mind for prisoners who are being mistreated,” Vincent said. “I think it’s not outlandish to say that they’re putting themselves in considerable harm for this.”
David Yaffe-Bellany contributed reporting.