Ask anyone, from your TA to your master’s assistant, from your dining hall swiper to Yale President Richard Levin, this academic year is going to be a big year for unions. As befits such an important year, you’re certain to be hearing lots of different things from lots of different people, some of it true, some of it untrue, much of it debatable.
Before the first salvos of administration-directed propaganda arrives in your college mailbox or under your door, learn to recognize and debunk some of Levin and Company’s favorite myths.
Yale-New Haven Hospital and Yale University are separate organizations, and the University can’t be held responsible for the hospital
Officially, this is indeed true. But the hospital and the University are integrally connected, starting with governance and extending to finances and employment. Levin, University Secretary Linda Lorimer, Medical School Dean David Kessler and Law School Admissions Dean (and former Saybrook Master) James Thomas are all on the Board of Trustees of the hospital. Many other board members are Yale alumni.
The medical school and the hospital are interdependent because the hospital relies on grants received by the med school, and the med school relies on the hospital for a pool of research patients. Finally, in a workers compensation lawsuit filed by a resident at the hospital, Yale itself argued that the University and the hospital were “co-employers.”
The connections can be even more prosaic. For instance, even the telephone systems of University and the hospital are tied together. If the Yale administration wanted to change policy at the hospital, it could.
Graduate students don’t deserve a union because they aren’t employees
The National Labor Relations Board — and common sense — says otherwise. Students can surely be both employees and students without one status impinging on the other. Students who work in the dining halls are members of Local 35, yet they are also employees — and no one questions their dual status. Yale relies on student labor to get its business done, and it should recognize those who do its labor as workers.
Unionization causes strikes
Actually, it’s employer resistance to unions that causes strikes. In the early 1980s, Yale’s clerical and technical employees decided they wanted a union, but Yale didn’t want them to form one and fought them every step of the way. The result was a bitter strike that tore the school apart in 1986.
But when the University finally settled and agreed to work with the union, there was labor peace until 1996. What happened then to cause another strike? The administration tried to break Local 35 through subcontracting. Unions by their nature hate strikes, and neither graduate teachers and researchers nor hospital workers are looking to strike. Since 1968, it has been the administration that has forced strikes in order to attempt to crush the union.
Unions are antithetical to educational and healthcare environments
Yale will be far from the first university or hospital to have unionized workers. Graduate employees from dozens of state universities have been unionized for years without Yale’s fears coming true. Contrary to administration propaganda, graduate teachers have not used their unions to demand academic concessions or hurt undergraduate education.
The University of California system has hardly been destroyed by graduate unionization. Universities in Canada have faculty, grad students, other employees and even undergraduates organized in unions with only positive effects, such as increased cooperation between graduate students and their faculty.
And in hospital settings, more than half of the top hospitals in the country, as ranked by U.S. News and World Report, are unionized. 1199, the union that is organizing workers at Yale-New Haven, is one of the most celebrated and venerable progressive unions in the country.
Neutrality-card count agreements are undemocratic
The Federation of Hospital and University Employees wants grad students and hospital workers to choose whether to unionize under an agreement that would require the Yale administration not to try to influence the outcome and which would correct the well-documented deficiencies in U.S. labor law.
Neutrality — in which supervisors and administrators promise not to wage an anti-union campaign — means that workers decide whether they want to unionize without fear of retribution. Although labor law forbids outright threats, harassment of pro-union employees is perfectly legal, and it’s a tactic well-practiced by Yale. A card-count agreement would bypass the severely flawed election procedure by having Yale recognize a union when a majority of workers sign cards requesting it.
Take the word of Yale-trained labor relations expert Lance Compa, a professor at Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, who wrote a heralded report for Human Rights Watch exposing why employers like Yale prefer the flawed election process. Employers like Yale prefer elections because they tend to win them. Workers win when unions are recognized based on their demonstrated desire.
Jacob Remes is a senior in Saybrook College.