I have a three-word response to GESO’s plans to strike. I consider the response decisive. It has convinced me to withhold my membership from GESO. I’ll try to explain why.
Here’s the response: Why no vote?
I know Yale’s administration has repeatedly indicated that it does not judge union representation for graduate students a good thing. I tend to agree. But the administration has also said that, in any case, a secret ballot election hosted by the NLRB is the only legitimate route to unionization. I don’t see why GESO should expect to be recognized any other way.
So here’s my response in a few more words: There is a well-defined legal route to recognition at GESO’s disposal. GESO is not taking that route. Why not? I find it baffling that the one route to recognition the University is prepared (indeed, legally obliged) to recognize is the one route GESO has yet to try.
I’ve asked my question many times to GESO supporters, some of whom are among my closest friends. This is what they say: The University has promised to contest the results of an NLRB election by any and all legal means, locking up the results of a vote for years; so this course of action is futile, or, at any rate, far down on the list options of the GESO leadership.
I reply: Of course, the administration will resist. It is their stated policy that graduate student unionization is a bad thing for Yale. Why wouldn’t they try to stave off what they consider a bad thing by the means at their disposal? But let them resist. There is no downside for GESO. Either Yale’s legal opposition will eventually collapse, thus leaving the administration with no legal recourse but to recognize a graduate student union. Or it will succeed, in which case GESO will have no further legal recourse, but will have the moral high ground. GESO could at that point legitimately claim to be representing a group of workers marginalized by the law. As things stand I find it hard to take this claim seriously.
How could either of the results I’ve mentioned be futile? Both strengthen GESO’s hand in a way that striking never will. Calling for an NLRB election should be at the top of GESO’s list of options. This course of action shifts the dispute to a playing field on which GESO stands a chance of winning, and occupies the moral high ground if it looses.
My GESO friends have answered by pointing out that GESO represents a work force that simply cannot afford a protracted legal battle. I don’t deny that graduate students are poor. But I do deny that the course of action I’ve endorsed would languish for want of legal representation. Why wouldn’t labor lawyers literally line up to press GESO’s case, pro bono? Has GESO had no friends go through law school?
I used to be a card-carrying GESO member, back when carrying a card meant that one supported the right of graduate students to vote union representation up or down. Somewhere along the way, carrying a card has come to means something else. I’ve yet to hear a good reason why. So I say: Forget neutrality. Forget strikes. Call for a vote.
J. Todd Buras is a graduate student in the Philosophy Department.