GESO members overwhelmingly endorsed the group’s first unified platform at a membership meeting Wednesday night, signaling a shift in the group’s strategy as it continues to press the Yale administration for recognition and issues-based reform.
Under the platform, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization will focus on fighting for University support of seven top issues at the Yale Graduate School — family support services, diversity, funding, international student visas, healthcare, career counseling and work conditions, GESO Chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said.
“Coming off last year where we had a lot of success as a union, we’ve spent the summer thinking about how to make our union stronger this year,” Seth said. “While we wanted union recognition, we thought we wanted to be on the ground fighting for the issues.”
Seth said the leadership of locals 34 and 35 — Yale’s largest unions, which settled contracts with the University last month — voiced their support of GESO at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We’ve stood together and [locals 34 and 35] will continue to stand with us,” Seth said. “As long as there is no organizational rights for other workers on this campus, the kind of labor peace and partnership that they seek with the administration and that the administration says they seek with them is not possible.”
Yale President Richard Levin said the University will not change its stance on graduate student unionization.
“If there are issues that are of concern to graduate students, there is a collective student government in the Graduate School that has been an effective vehicle in the past years,” Levin said.
Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey said he was not familiar with GESO’s new platform.
GESO has been trying to organize a teaching and research assistant union for nearly 14 years. Graduate students narrowly voted against unionization in a vote GESO held April 30. GESO leaders said at the time they would spend the summer reevaluating their organizing tactics.
GESO surveyed about 700 graduate students about issues that were important to graduate students over the summer, GESO member Ben Begleiter GRD ’04 said. The group compiled the survey data to select major issues that would appeal to the membership.
“The platform has been a process of a lot of people putting ideas together — most of the people coming to this meeting tonight have had the chance to share their ideas, which is why I expect support at tonight’s meeting,” Seth said before the meeting.
Claudia Brittenham GRD ’08, former president of At What Cost said GESO’s new platform is a “real departure” in the construction and organization of the union. A group of graduate students formed At What Cost last spring to address concerns they had about GESO.
“I feel like this platform is the step in the right direction, but unless it’s accompanied by structural changes that make GESO more democratic and more responsive to its constituency, I’m not sure how long this positive trend will last,” Brittenham said. “This is really based entirely on the priorities that came out of the surveys that come out during the summer rather than the opinions of the Coordinating Committee.”
Seth said GESO will attempt to bring decisions to the membership rather than the leadership board in an effort to expand membership and support at the Graduate School.
“We need to have the membership making decisions as collectively as possible,” Seth said. “Now that we’re agreed on the issues that we’re fighting for, coming to a decision about how to fight and what steps to take next will take some time — several weeks, probably.”
GESO members have not scheduled any events for the immediate future but said they will discuss possible actions in subcommittees over the next few weeks.
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