Unlike in 2003, when Yale labor unions Locals 34 and 35 demanded that the Graduate Employee Student Organization be recognized by the University, union officials did not mention GESO in this year’s contract discussions.
Although Locals 34 and 35 officials’ demand for GESO recognition helped bring the 2002 negotiations to a 19-month crawl, two union members said no such demand was made during this year’s contract discussions. Because it is now against federal labor law for private school graduate students to unionize, the members explained, revisiting GESO’s status in this year’s discussions would have proved fruitless.
Still, despite not being included in this round of negotiations, graduate students remain eager to once again be recognized as a union.
In July 2004, about three years after Brown University graduate students attempted to achieve collective bargaining rights under the United Auto Workers union, the National Labor Relations Board ruled that all private school graduate students are forbidden from unionizing.
Last year, the chairmen of their respective Congressional education and labor committees — Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) — each introduced legislation in Congress that would give graduate students at private universities the right to unionize. But the Senate and House bills never made it to a vote; they both died in committee.
Miller reintroduced the bill, which is called the Teaching and Research Assistant Collective Bargaining Rights Act, to the House of Representatives last month. And Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, introduced the same bill in the U.S. Senate last Thursday; Kennedy has co-sponsored the legislation. Both the Senate and House versions have been referred to their respective committees.
“We should restore bargaining rights to these hard-working individuals who were unfairly denied those rights by the [former President George W.] Bush [’68] National Labor Relations Board so they can, if they choose … band together and negotiate for better working conditions,” House Education and Labor Committee Press Secretary Aaron Albright wrote in an e-mail Monday.
To be sure, pushing for a student union is not a top priority for the union officials given the nation’s faltering economy; four union officials and members said over the weekend that the primary focus was job security.
During the 2002-2003 union contract negotiations, union officials pushed for University recognition of GESO because, as they said at the time, the move would be beneficial to the two worker unions. University spokesman Tom Conroy said at the time that University officials would not “negotiate matters that are unrelated to contracts of our employees.” In response, some GESO members decided to stage an “intellectual strike” against the University in 2003, walking out of teaching-assistant class sections, ignoring classes and stopping research in solidarity with Locals 34 and 35.
University administrators have declined to comment on this year’s early agreement until April 14, when the two unions will vote on the contract. Yale unions spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’05 confirmed Sunday that the two unions are scheduled to have meetings that day. Union members interviewed by the News about the discussions spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the record.
Currently, GESO members await the opportunity to request recognition by the University, GESO chairwoman Ariana Paulson GRD ’11 has said this semester. If GESO members are given the opportunity by the federal government to unionize and are prevented from doing so by the University, the graduate students may resort to retaliation, including walking out and striking, Paulson said in January.
But for now, Locals 34 and 35 will likely not strike next year over contract negotiations. Over a dozen union members interviewed by the News since Friday have expressed support for the agreement.
Cobb said Sunday that if the contract is approved, the unions would not strike because the no-strike and walk-out language that is often included in union contracts prevents such actions.
GESO staged a rally outside the Hall of Graduate Studies last month to demand that the University listen to the group’s requests, including increased job support and direct communication with administrators.
If the bill passes both houses of Congress and graduate student unionization becomes legal, GESO officials are adamant that they will unionize. But in 2003, with 80 challenge votes, graduate students narrowly voted against GESO, 694 to 651.