Last week at a GESO membership meeting, graduate teachers and researchers voted to strike by almost a 4-1 margin. Beginning on Monday, March 3, we will be on the picket lines. We will remain there through Friday with our fellow union members from locals 34 and 35 as well as the members of 1199 at Yale’s teaching hospital.
As graduate students, teachers and researchers, we are deeply committed to our fields of study — our scholarship, our science, our teaching, our research, our art. All of us are excited by the opportunities to pursue our work here at Yale. And yet, we believe that both here at Yale and across the country, it is vital that all the people who do the work of the university have a real voice at the university. We believe that universities should be institutions devoted to teaching, research and learning in the interest of society.
In order to fulfill this mission, we believe that it is essential that all those who do the teaching and the research play a significant role in the decision-making process of the University. When the people who do this work have no voice, the quality of the work itself suffers. As an example, it is worth noting that the one group that was not consulted in any significant way about the current academic review of Yale’s undergraduate curriculum was the graduate teachers who spend the most time next to our students — teaching them new languages, reading their rough drafts, supervising their experiments in lab, and advising their studio work.
The only reason that there is going to be a strike here is because President Richard Levin has refused to engage in any discussion about any other reasonable way by which we might win recognition of our union.
Levin’s refusal to talk is a direct repudiation of the first recommendation issued by the labor consultant retained jointly by the administration and locals 34 and 35. That consultant said that both sides had to come to “some understanding” regarding the conduct of current organizing efforts. You cannot reach a mutual understanding if you are unwilling to talk.
Instead, Levin insists that GESO file for an election with the National Labor Relations Board — while at the same time making clear that he will exhaust every legal option for appeal before respecting the results of such an election.
Imagine an election, anywhere in the world, in which authorities promised in advance that the vote would remain ignored, uncounted and nonbinding for years after election day. This is precisely what Levin is asking us to do.
In 2000, Levin asked New York University to appeal the NLRB ruling that established organizing rights for graduate teachers and researchers. NYU ignored Levin’s request, recognized the union, and successfully completed contract negotiations without any disruption. One NYU administrator told the Chronicle of Higher Education: “They seem willing to burn down their campus over this issue. We’re not there yet.”
This past year, Cornell University agreed to give up their right to appeal, and an election was held on that campus. The graduate students voted not to unionize. Levin, however, has not even entertained such an option for Yale, presumably since he, like us, knows that GESO would win such an election hands down, and that he would then have to recognize the union.
Levin could solve the crisis today. All he would need to do is begin meeting with GESO representatives to negotiate a democratic, fair, and fast process for deciding whether a majority of graduate teachers and researchers want to unionize, and agree to forgo Yale’s right to appeal the results of this process. Without such a step, GESO will not forgo its legal rights, including the right to strike.
We hope that Levin will agree to allow reasoned discourse to solve the current dispute. His refusal to permit such discourse, however, is forcing Yale’s graduate teachers and researchers to take action.
Anita Seth is a graduate student in the History Department. She is chairwoman of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization.