The Graduate Employees and Students Organization is trying to increase its numbers to gain union status, but Steven Corcelli GRD ’01 and at least 137 other graduate students contest that GESO’s recruitment tactics border on harassment.
His petition is one example of how some graduate students who oppose GESO have begun to criticize the way the group tries to attract more members.
For GESO to achieve union status, a majority of graduate students must vote in favor of forming a TA union. Before that election can happen, GESO must demonstrate that it has 30 percent support among TAs for a union.
Corcelli collected 138 signatures in May for a petition alleging that GESO members employed “over aggressive” recruitment tactics. The petition states that GESO members pressured non-GESO members by visiting private residences uninvited, employing peer pressure tactics, repeatedly visiting laboratory areas without permission and unfairly posing as an organization that represents all graduate students.
GESO Chair J. T. Way GRD ’05 said his organization never received such a petition. Although Corcelli never distributed a signed copy of the petition, he said he read the complaints at the GESO meeting in May.
“A number of people who signed the petition were very concerned about the signatures coming into the hands of GESO for fear of further harassment,” Corcelli said. “I gave my word that I would not hand over the names to GESO. Clearly, the leadership and, moreover, the general membership of GESO were well aware of the contents of the petition and chose not to respond.”
Alycia Shilton GRD ’01 circulated a similar petition protesting GESO tactics in the summer of 1999 in the molecular, cellular and developmental biology department.
“For one, it was very dangerous to have GESO members untrained in bio-safety measures entering our labs and seeking to engage us in conversations,” she said.
One female in the Graduate School’s class of 2004, who asked to remain anonymous, said she signed the GESO membership card just so recruiters would leave her alone.
“They first kept talking to me, and I kept refusing to join. And they kept persisting,” she said. “I decided to sign the card and forget about it.”
GESO always distributes information about itself at the orientation for first year graduate students, and Rachel Martin GRD ’03, who helped collect signatures for the May petition, has attended the event to hand out anti-union literature. She said GESO tries to appear as if it is an official part of the orientation program and acts as if it already represents a majority of graduate students.
“Starting a couple years ago [in 1998] some friends and I went down and handed out information for our side. The entire time I was there, I had one GESO member standing next to me,” she said. “They had a big guy to intimidate me, and I was alone in that area. They were very insistent that they had to debate me right there.”
Way said GESO attends the orientation to educate new students and that he even helped distribute opposition material to encourage open discussion.
“We’re very clear about who we are and what we’re doing,” Way said. “The very small group who call themselves GASO also show up to that same event. I personally helped them distribute their literature.”
GASO is a collection of individuals who have emerged as the main opposition to GESO.
Julia Kreychman GRD ’04, who was visited by uninvited GESO members in the fall of 1999 at her house on two separate occasions, said a GESO member also visited her work station at Osborne Memorial Laboratory every week during the summer and once a week this fall despite receiving consistently negative responses.
Way said GESO’s recruitment techniques are not problematic. He praised his organization for successfully informing hundreds of students about unionization possibilities.
“I don’t think the focus of this debate should be about tactics, it should be about motives,” Way said. “Is academic freedom worth a moment of slight social discomfort? Yes,” he added.