In late April, hundreds of graduate students delivered a rain-soaked petition with over 1,000 signatures to Woodbridge Hall, demanding recognition as employees of the University and the right to form a union.
But over the past few months the administration and the Graduate Employees and Student Organization (GESO) have yet to talk. While GESO members place the responsibility for next steps on the administration, the administration — which disagrees with GESO’s argument that graduate students are employees of Yale — has chosen not to engage.
Despite the scale of April’s protest and the recent unionization of graduate students at New York University and the University of Connecticut, the University has issued only a general, two-sentence response, and no senior administrators have reached out to GESO’s leaders. GESO leaders have made no efforts to meet with senior administrators either, saying they have delivered their message in the form of the petition.
The result is a stalemate: While GESO would like recognition as a union, the administration would like to see GESO, which has existed in some form for at least three decades, slide from view.
“I have no plans to meet with the leaders of GESO,” newly installed Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley said, adding that she was unaware of the specifics of the April petition. “I’m not aware of that petition. I heard something happened over there.”
Though GESO and other union leaders continue to express hope for a more specific response, no such response is forthcoming. University Spokesman Tom Conroy said the University has no plans to issue a response to the GESO petition beyond the brief statement released in late April, which was provided to the News rather than sent to GESO members.
“Yale University and the Graduate School have worked and will continue to work productively with faculty and students, including the Graduate Student Assembly, on the issues identified by the petition,” Conroy’s April statement read. “We are committed to the best possible academic outcomes for our students.”
Meanwhile, when asked if the group planned on reaching out to the administration, GESO Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 demurred.
“The administration knows what we are looking for, which is the chance to decide on the question of the union,” Greenberg said.
Chief of Staff to the President Joy McGrath said Thursday that, to her knowledge, Greenberg has not reached out to Salovey’s office in an effort to schedule a meeting. She added that the April petition included no request to meet with senior administrators.
The current stasis between Yale and GESO is only the latest chapter in the University’s long and tumultuous history with organized labor.
In the 1990s, then-University President Richard Levin made great strides in Yale’s labor relations by opening dialogue with the University’s unions, Local 34 and Local 35.
“[Dialogue with the administration in the last decade] has certainly been vital to us to be able to resolve problems before they come up in open conflict,” Local 34 President Laurie Kennington said.
Kennington added that the University’s substantive engagement on issues such as employee pensions and retirement plans has led to “10 years of peace and prosperity.”
But GESO does not pose the threat to University President Peter Salovey and other senior administrators that Locals 34 and 35 posed to Levin. In the years before Levin’s engagement with the unions, Locals 34 and 35 repeatedly went on strike, effectively shutting down campus for days at a time.
GESO last used a similar tactic in 2005, when some 250 teaching assistants formed picket lines on Wall, High, York and Prospect Streets. At the time, administrators said that the strike had a minimal effect on undergraduate education.
Current GESO leaders have expressed no interest in striking.
“We are in conversations with our members across the University and with new members who just arrived in New Haven for the first time,” Greenberg said when asked if GESO would consider striking.
Nevertheless, the lack of engagement has produced frustration among some graduate students who would like to see movement on the issue.
“Having no feedback [from the administration] means that Yale does not regard whatever we’re doing as work,” said Catherine Tourangeau ’19, a doctoral student in history and member of GESO.
Tourangeau said that given the University’s unresponsiveness to the April petition, the onus may now shift to GESO to initiate dialogue.
She added that GESO members are currently in conversation about how to move forward.
She added that better organization within the group could lead to stronger results for GESO. She said that submitting the petition shortly before summer, when people were about to leave campus, was an example of poor organization because momentum was lost.
Even if GESO leaders and the administration did open a dialogue, future requests for unionization may fall on unreceptive ears.
On Thursday, Cooley said she saw no need for a graduate student union.
“In my view, graduate students are here for training and academic work, for their own personal development. I don’t think it’s fair to view them as employees,” Cooley said. “Even when they’re teaching, that’s part of their training. So I don’t see the obvious logic for the need for a union.”
GESO delivered its petition to Woodbridge Hall on April 30.