The Yale Daily News’ fanatical anti-GESO position sorely misunderstands the meaning of “workplace democracy” and highlights the massive miseducation of American citizens about workers’ rights. As has been typical of the News’ penchant for historical amnesia when discussing labor relations, the editors of the paper seem to have conveniently forgotten that throughout American history, it has been management that has done almost all of the intimidation, harassment and misinformation in order to suppress unions.
Maybe the News has already forgotten that only a few weeks ago, Yale-New Haven Hospital settled an NLRB complaint that centered on the hospital management’s illegal interference with union organizing. Somehow the News’ editors also conclude that attaining a real majority of graduate students is a less democratic outcome than the majority attained at an “election,” where only those that show up and vote are counted.
And most odd of all, I don’t recall the News standing up for “dialogue” when the Graduate Student Assembly wouldn’t allow the federation at the table to provide the pro-union perspective.
Hypocrisy aside, the News’ tortured arguments have consistently overlooked the positive contribution GESO would make to undergraduate academic quality. And as the GESO debate moves forward, undergraduates should have a sense of what is in it for them if TAs unionize.
GESO would boost undergraduate education by providing a counterweight to the financial pressures that presently guide the administration’s decision-making. In the last 20 years, Yale’s teaching load has shifted away from tenure track faculty toward graduate TAs and adjuncts.
How many of us have been in overcrowded sections or had TAs who have not been provided with adequate teacher training or English language preparation? How many have struggled to get into seminars of tenured professors?
We can find evidence of how GESO would help undergraduates in Yale’s own dining halls. As Aramark’s purely for-profit motives have taken over the dining hall management, the quality of food has decreased. Unionized cooks, whose talents are being ignored, are leading the Yale community as they demand the return of high-quality food. The cooks are helping to maintain Yale’s traditional standards. We can expect the same from GESO.
In my discussions with undergraduate constituents about GESO, three arguments repeatedly surface as students express their anxiety about having TAs unionize. First, undergraduates grimace at the fact that unionized TAs could go on “grade strikes.” As someone who went through the “grade action” in 1995 as an undergraduate, I can attest that my academic career was not irreparably harmed.
Quite the opposite, I was inspired to see my TAs act collectively on behalf of principles. Ultimately, what might prove to be a slight inconvenience to students is a major bargaining tool for TAs in their efforts to maintain living wages and adequate health care, as well as fight for the dedication of resources to academics.
Second, students worry that educational quality would suffer if wily, untested students barely getting their doctorate degrees play a larger role in deciding what or how Yalies are taught. Actually, as casualization has taken hold of the University, TAs have already begun to play a lead role in how undergraduates are taught. GESO would provide balance to that trend by fighting for smaller class sizes, better teacher training and more tenured positions.
And finally, some more fiscally-conscious students gripe that GESO’s struggle for fair wages and benefits or more tenured positions would destroy University finances. It is impossible to precisely determine what the University’s fiscal outlook might be in the future, but a graduate student union would not translate into fiscal recklessness.
Instead it would usher a shift in fiscal priorities, much like the set of financial aid reforms the administration adopted in the last few years to match Princeton’s and Harvard’s. Clearly, recent financial aid reforms have not sent the University into fiscal crisis, and if anything, they are needed to keep the University competitive with peer institutions. Similarly, GESO’s push to invest in educational quality would nurture, not hinder, the University’s reputation as a site of academic excellence.
Hopefully, undergraduates will overlook the obfuscated views of the News and begin to recognize GESO’s potential to improve academic quality.
Julio Gonzalez graduated from Yale College in 1999. He is Ward 1 alderman.