When Julie Ehrlich ’03 shopped an American studies senior seminar on Monday, she found the seminar leader talking not only about course requirements and grading but also about the high possibility of a TA strike.
As the new semester begins, many professors, teaching assistants and students are preparing for a possible strike by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization. In a number of classes this week, students have asked professors whether they would cross picket lines if TAs or Yale’s recognized unions strike. The concerns over strikes come as Yale and its two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, continue contract negotiations, and as GESO continues its efforts to achieve recognition as a union.
With contract talks stretching into their 12th month and as GESO continues its organizing efforts, union leaders and GESO members have hinted at the high possibility of a strike this semester. Local 35 President Bob Proto said in December that union members might strike during this semester if negotiations do not improve. Negotiators began regular bargaining again last week after nearly three months with only one full-table negotiation session. In four days of bargaining, negotiators discussed pensions, parking and training, but said they remain far apart on major issues.
GESO has been trying to organize graduate teaching and research assistants for over a decade but has not requested a formal election. University administrators have opposed unionization, maintaining that graduate students are not employees.
Ehrlich said Samuel Zipp GRD ’05, a GESO member who teaches a senior seminar called “Seminar on the City: New York,” warned students shopping his course of the high possibility of a GESO strike.
“It sounded like, from what he said, that it’s fairly likely that there will be a strike,” Ehrlich said. She said Zipp made the announcement because many students shopping the course planned to write their senior essays in the class.
Zipp could not be reached for comment.
American Studies chairman Jean-Christophe Agnew said TAs have made similar statements to their classes in past years.
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” he said. “Announcements like these have been made at run-ups to other possible strikes.”
In several classes, individual students asked professors whether they would continue to hold class meetings if GESO or locals 34 and 35 strike.
Zachary Schwartz-Weinstein ’04 said he asked many professors in classes he shopped whether they would cross picket lines.
“I think a lot of people are concerned about it,” he said.
In a 1996 GESO grade strike, some TAs withheld grades from the registrar. During past strikes by locals 34 and 35, many professors moved their classes off campus to avoid crossing picket lines, holding courses in local restaurants and churches.
Last September, GESO leaders said that the group might strike in the fall if Yale administrators did not engage the organization in discussions. GESO has not held any actions yet. University leaders have developed a contingency plan in case of strikes or other job actions but have declined to comment on specific plans.