At the opening of Yale’s third strike in as many years, this community is right to wonder how it is that we find ourselves at this point — and where we go from here. Today it’s key to remember which camp on this campus prefers negotiations to strikes and which prefers strikes to negotiations. GESO is in the former camp, having spent a decade calling in vain for President Levin to come to the table and this month asking yet again that the administration resolve this labor struggle by recognizing the vote certified by Connecticut’s secretary of state. President Levin, unfortunately, is in the other camp, willfully forcing another strike on this campus rather than have a discussion with the union in which a majority of humanities and social science TAs claim membership. At no point this year has this contrast been clearer than at President Levin’s February open forum, at which he responded to a student question by saying, “Yes, I would rather have them strike than meet with them, because I believe it would be less detrimental to the University.”
Hard to believe it was only a year and a half ago that President Levin was holding a joint press conference with HERE President John Wilhelm and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to announce the completed negotiation of contracts with locals 34 and 35 and the end of that fall’s strike. On that day, Levin expressed his hope that Yale’s administration and its employees would be able “to build a stronger, more cooperative relationship.” He told reporters that “in the end, it was the conversations that won the day, not the confrontation.” Some dared to hope that the “new era in labor relations” promised at the tercentennial had finally — however belatedly — arrived. Unfortunately, as hundreds of teaching assistants walk off their jobs, Levin seems to be working from the same old anti-union playbook. The “stronger, more cooperative relationship,” it appears, does not apply to the people who do a third of Yale’s teaching. Here, conversations will have little chance at winning the day as long as Levin continues to maintain that they would be more harmful to the University than the disruption of academic labor.
Levin’s refusal to talk to GESO about a fair process unfortunately mirrors Yale’s refusal to engage in constructive discussion with the union about the challenges facing the University, be the issue academic casualization’s threat to undergraduate education, the under-representation of students of color or the inaccessibility of affordable health care. As the News itself has observed, Yale’s silence in the face of GESO’s articulation of these problems and offering of solutions is too often deafening. Last year, when more than 300 GESO members, after trying in vain to meet with Dean Salovey about diversity at Yale, filed a formal grievance with the administration, they waited months before being told that the grievance had been lost. GESO went back and again collected the signatures, again submitted the grievance and is again waiting for a response to calls for increased funding for the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, institutional support for under-resourced academic fields and the formation of an independent grievance process.
Like many of us, GESO’s members are still waiting for Yale’s leaders to enter the conversation on how to fashion policy better promoting Yale’s stated values of equal opportunity and excellence in education. Meanwhile, the proportion of Yale’s teaching done by transient teachers has risen to more than triple that recommended by the American Historical Association; more graduate students have turned to HUSKY (state health-care assistance for the working poor) to insure their children; and Hazel Carby remains the only black woman tenured at Yale. Yale’s refusal to address these issues or the graduate student employees working to improve them has only reinforced the idea that being heard as a Yale employee means being recognized through a union contract.
We as undergraduates today face another strike and the potential for further future disruption because our president refuses to recognize what the United Nations and the Internal Revenue Service do: that the men and women who teach our sections and grade our papers are employees receiving compensation for labor. When this fact changes has everything to do with the readiness of even more undergraduates to join with GESO’s call for equal opportunity and educational excellence and to demand negotiation with our teachers for the sake of our education. Today, undergraduates will join graduate workers, service and maintenance workers, clerical and technical workers, and community members in creating classrooms on High St. to foster discussion of the issues Levin has refused to recognize.
After that last strike, Levin told the New Haven Advocate that “had we been able to sit down” earlier to negotiate, a settlement would have been reached sooner. But at that same press conference, when former Advocate editor Paul Bass asked whether Levin would have come to the negotiating table, as many of us spent over a year urging him to do, without a strike, Levin paused and then answered, “At the right time and place, I would have been there.” History need not repeat itself any more than it already has. Levin still has a chance to recognize that the right time has come to negotiate with GESO, and to demonstrate that he too has learned something from the strikes that have been so frequent in this university’s history.
Josh Eidelson is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College.