You wouldn’t know it from this newspaper, but the Yale College Council did something quite remarkable late Sunday night. It called on the Yale administration to sit down with GESO representatives and decide how the question of graduate student unionization will be settled.
The contentious resolution the YCC eventually passed did not specify what the Graduate Employees and Students Organization and the administration — together with an undefined group of “independent graduate students” — should say or do at the negotiating table. Indeed, it explicitly refused to opine on the best method of recognizing a union.
It simply told the administration to start talking.
Because the news coverage of the resolution in this paper has focused heavily on the first clause of the resolution — which repealed a previous resolution that did give a preference of how to settle the issue — I refer to the text of the resolution.
“YCC suggests that all parties seek the most mutually acceptable and reasonable conclusion to these issues that the law allows and that is consistent with the mission of the University and the principles of higher education and that at minimum the aforementioned parties — GESO, independent graduate students and the Yale administration –should convene and determine the fairest, most expedient recourse, without coercion, to an amicable solution.”
The YCC’s resolution is remarkable for three reasons.
First, it urges the administration to do what it has always refused to do: negotiate with GESO. Not negotiate over a contract — that comes only if GESO proves that it truly represents graduate employees. Simply negotiate over the way to decide on that proof.
So far, the administration has simply refused to do that. It’s easy to see why. The primary position of the administration is that graduate students are not employees and thus do not deserve a union. If it comes to an election, the administration will appeal it — just as it has urged every other private university to do. If administrators sit down with GESO to come to an “amicable solution” it admits the possibility of a legitimate union.
Second, the YCC resolution argues that any negotiated solution should recognize the right of graduate students to make their decisions free from coercion. While much has been said and written about a hypothetical, as-yet-unwritten neutrality agreement, at the core of any neutrality agreement is that workers are protected from coercion. An agreement between GESO and the administration could easily spell out the acceptable actions of both sides.
A simple National Labor Relations Board election process simply does not protect workers from coercion. That was a core finding of a much-heralded report released last year by Human Rights Watch and written by Lance Compa LAW ’73, who teaches at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The YCC resolution calls on the parties involved to craft a solution which does respect the right to form one’s own opinion.
Third, the resolution is remarkable because it is a paragon of neutrality itself. It does not, as a previous resolution did, endorse the unions’ preferred method of a card-count agreement. It does not, as Rep. Matthew Robinson ’03 had proposed, argue that an election administered by the NLRB is the only acceptable method.
Instead the YCC listened to the constituents and others who came to the meeting on Sunday and learned that there are many ways to certify a union.
A card count is one way. An NLRB election is another. A secret ballot election supervised by a neutral, non-governmental third party — such as the League of Women Voters — is yet another. Before the passage of the 1935 Wagner Act, unions were recognized unilaterally by employers when action by employees forced the issue.
YCC representatives, forced to acknowledge that they knew less labor law than they had supposed, finally admitted that they could not decide which way was best.
So they left it up to graduate students and their employers to decide, and they “suggest[ed] — that at a minimum the aforementioned parties — should convene and determine the fairest, most expedient recourse, without coercion, to an amicable solution.”
Now all that’s left is for the administration to agree to convene.
Jacob Remes is a senior in Saybrook College. His columns appear on alternate Wednesdays.