At first blush, the word “neutrality” has a rather pleasant ring to it. At least it must have to the 17 members of the Yale College Council who voted to support a resolution calling on Yale to enter into a neutrality agreement with the Graduate Students and Employees Organization Sunday night.
Such an agreement sounds as if it would allow the process of graduate student unionization to happen or not to happen in an orderly, fair and democratic manner.
The neutrality agreement recommended by the YCC would have two primary provisions. First, Yale would agree not to make any public statements opposing graduate student unionization. Second, Yale would agree to recognize GESO as a union automatically with rights of collective bargaining if GESO presented it with signed statements of support (known as “cards”) from more than half of the graduate students eligible to be in the union.
Such an agreement, which Yale has rightfully long opposed, would grant GESO a monopoly on a unionization debate that is far from resolved. The dispute over graduate student labor at a private university is a peculiar one that defies ready analogies to the traditional workplace. The time-tested union model in place at hospitals, factories and offices does not clearly conform to the academic environment. Lingering questions about the place of academic unions at Yale require an open airing in the tradition of unfettered discussion that defines the university setting.
Neutrality of the sort backed by the YCC would make that impossible. First, Yale would effectively be barred from explaining to graduate students why it thinks that unionization is not appropriate for a university. The only voice in a post-neutrality “debate” would belong to GESO, which would continue to campaign for a union while Yale sat on its hands.
Second, GESO would be able to collect cards in whatever manner it chooses, and students would be asked to sign cards with their names on them, most likely in front of a GESO organizer who is pressuring them to do so. GESO claims that a neutrality agreement will stop Yale from “harassing” graduate students into voting against the union. But employee harassment — as defined by national labor law — is already forbidden at Yale and everywhere else. Nothing in the agreement that the YCC is advocating, however, would stop GESO from harassing students into voting for a union.
The sensible, fair and democratic way to resolve the unionization controversy is for Yale to present its arguments against a graduate student union, for GESO to present its arguments for it, and let the students evaluate the competing claims and vote their minds in secret, the way Americans have voted for elective office since open elections were abolished in the late 1800s. And it’s the way we have been voting for anything since elementary school government elections.
If GESO has the true support of a majority of graduate students, it has nothing to fear from a secret-ballot election.
By endorsing the neutrality agreement, the YCC has shown that it will sway in the wind of any interest group that blows hard enough.
Shame especially on several YCC officer candidates who told the Yale Daily News in their endorsement interviews Sunday that they didn’t know very much about neutrality but went ahead and voted for the resolution anyway. We are quite sure that the administration will spurn the YCC’s resolution. We hope it does.