It has happened year after year, like clockwork, for the past eight years. And on Wednesday, it happened again — the Graduate Employees and Students Organization urged the University to accept the group as a union.
GESO staged a rally outside the Hall of Graduate Studies on Wednesday afternoon to demand that the University listen to the group’s requests, including increased job support and direct communication with administrators. GESO, which now comprises more than half of Yale’s graduate students, has made similar demands for more than a decade but has been perpetually rebuffed by University administrators.
Organizers said they are optimistic that the Democrat-controlled 111th U.S. Congress will pass legislation forcing the University to accept GESO as a union.
“While Yale has not recognized our right to organize, the federal government soon will,” GESO Chair Ariana Paulson GRD ’11 said to the 60 students and supporters gathered at the rally.
In a January interview with the News, Paulson said prospects for graduate student unions have improved since 2004. That year, the National Labor Relations Board prevented graduate teaching assistants at Brown University from joining the United Auto Workers union.
Last year, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced legislation in Congress that would give graduate students at private universities the right to unionize. The Senate and House bills never made it to a vote; they both died in committee.
A spokesman for the House Committee on Education and Labor, which Miller chairs, said Wednesday that Miller plans to reintroduce the bill soon, though it is unclear exactly when. Kennedy — who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension — did not respond to a phone request for comment Wednesday.
Paulson and GESO supporters said the presence of both a Democratic majority in Congress and the labor-friendly Obama administration bodes well for the bill’s passage.
At the 40-minute rally, four graduate students who spoke asked the University to increase its support of graduate students seeking work, especially in the face of a bearish academic job market.
“I, like many others, was looking for a job in my field, and, like many others, I did not find a job in my field,” said Lisa Pinley-Covert GRD ’09, who researches Latin American history.
Jon Butler, dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said in a letter to the graduate school in January that administrators are aware of current job difficulty and will provide guidance to students seeking professorships.
GESO organizer Sarah Egan GRD ’10 said she thought the rally drew a strong turnout, especially considering that planners changed the rally date from Monday to Wednesday due to snow conditions.
A student from Ireland, Egan said “it made sense” for her to join GESO in 2004 because in her country, graduate students, or “tutors,” can unionize.
Excitement outside HGS did not affect four graduate students studying inside. Indrani Saran GRD ’10 of the International Relations department said she did not know that GESO existed.
Saran, who has never worked as a teaching assistant, said if some students felt their needs were not being met by the administration, it could be worthwhile to join GESO.
“But, as far as I know,” she added, “the TAs are paid pretty well.”
In January, Butler announced that despite cutting its operating budget, the Graduate School would increase the living stipend for its doctoral students for 2009-’10.
GESO formed after graduate school members of the group T.A. Solidarity voted to seek unionization in 1990.
Divya Subrahmanyam contributed reporting.