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Leaders of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization held a teach-in on Wednesday night for undergraduates explain their rationale for a potential strike and drum up support.

Approximately 50 undergraduates attended the discussion — led by GESO chair Mary Reynolds GRD ’07, David Huyssen GRD ’10, History and American Studies professor Michael Denning, and Undergraduate Organizing Committee member Gloria Alday ’07 — which focused on GESO’s reasons for seeking unionization.

For the last 14 years, Reynolds said, GESO has been trying to organize graduate teaching assistants from the humanities, social sciences and professional schools to negotiate with the University on issues such as pay equity, hiring practices, healthcare, and faculty diversity, as well as smaller sections and more faculty discussions for undergraduates.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the University will continue its long-standing stance against graduate student unionization, regardless of whether GESO decides to enter a five-day strike beginning on April 18.

“Yale’s position is consistent and will remain so,” Conroy said.

Huyssen said if GESO were recognized as a union, it would be able to correct what its leaders call an “imbalance” in healthcare benefits. He said that he is discouraged to see an institution like Yale, with an endowment of $12.7 billion, not paying for healthcare for the children of TAs, who are then forced to live on state welfare.

With regard to faculty diversity, Reynolds said GESO is asking Yale to increase the number of women and minorities hired into tenured and tenure-track positions.

“There is a huge disparity here between the access women and people of color have to these high positions, compared to others,” Reynolds said. “We are all part of the same community, and we all deserve the same rights.”

The panelists criticized the University for its hiring practices, suggesting Yale is more interested in hiring postdoctoral and adjunct professors than hiring full-time junior and senior faculty.

“It’s remiss of Yale University not to take a lead on this issue,” Huyssen said. “It’s extremely alienating for me to know that I have no future here.”

Huyssen said the University would boost morale by hiring more full-time faculty.

“The teaching that I do is undermined by the market forces,” he said. “[But] when the institution is committed to you, you feel committed to the institution.”

Denning, who teaches modern American culture, called the administration’s refusal to recognize GESO as a union “the myopia of the University.”

“University professors are some of the most unionized industries in the country,” he said, adding that the University of California schools are all unionized.

Several of the undergraduates at the teach-in said they will support GESO if the group decides to strike.

“For me, the solidarity between undergraduates and graduates is important, and I want to be a part of it,” UOC member Phoebe Rounds ’07 said. “These are the issues that define the future of the university. These are the issues we can’t ignore.”

The panelists said they were confident that a majority of GESO members will vote to support a strike at GESO’s membership meeting next Wednesday.
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