At a rally on Beinecke Plaza last month pushing for unionization, leaders of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization boasted that they had support from two-thirds of Yale graduate students.

At the rally’s end, GESO President Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 carried a large banner bearing hundreds of faces — the faces of the students GESO claims support the group’s efforts  — into Woodbridge Hall. Yet questions persist about whether GESO actually has majority support from graduate students, and about how GESO gathers that support. Some graduate students interviewed said GESO members use aggressive tactics to find new members, and while many graduate students interviewed said they support graduate student unionization, some were less supportive of GESO’s campaign methods.

“I have experienced aggressive approaches at times,” said Emine Altuntas GRD ’17. “At times GESO members were not open to criticism and taking ‘no’ as an answer.”

Altuntas, who said she does not support GESO’s mission to unionize, added that while she appreciates the concerns GESO members have raised about graduate student life and working conditions, she disagrees with the tactics they use.

From 2012 to 2013, Altuntas was an active participant in GESO, but she broke off ties after seeing how extreme the group’s approach was, she said. Altuntas also suggested that GESO may claim to have majority support because the organization accepts graduate student signatures even when those graduate students are only saying ‘yes’ to get rid of GESO organizers and end the conversation.

“They are extremely aggressive,” said Jacob Blumoff GRD ’17, recounting two specific encounters he had with GESO members. When Blumoff came out of class one day, a GESO member that Blumoff did not know approached him, recognizing him by face and name. From this, Blumoff said he realized that the GESO member had memorized his photo, published online by the physics department. Blumoff described the encounter as “mildly creepy.”

On another occasion, Blumoff said he had to tell a GESO representative five times to leave his lab space.

“He was having none of it,” Blumoff said of the representative.

An English graduate student, who asked to remain anonymous because most students in his department are GESO supporters, said that GESO’s “No Intimidation” slogan — a response to perceived intimidation tactics by the office of the dean of the graduate school — is ironic because GESO uses intimidating tactics of its own. GESO members follow people into bathrooms, go to students’ homes uninvited and contact potential supporters repeatedly by email, text or phone, the student said.

GESO has a hierarchical structure whereby more junior recruiters report to GESO leaders in a bottom-up fashion, the student continued, calling it an “aggressive recruitment machine” which puts pressure on people to conform and support their graduate student peers.

“[GESO] is an exploitative ‘boys club’ that tries to justify its practices for a greater good,” the student said.

The University administration has also expressed concerns about GESO’s aggressive tactics. Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Tamar Gendler said she and her colleagues have heard numerous complaints about union organizers’ inappropriate recruitment tactics. Gendler said this behavior includes harassing and intimidating, cornering students in laboratories, unwanted visits to student homes and other forms of peer pressure.

Other students, like Robby Blum GRD ’18, said that while some degree of annoyance is expected from an organization with GESO’s ambitious mobilization, the biggest problem with GESO is the way members treat former organizers after they choose to leave the organization. Blum said many of his acquaintances previously helped organize for GESO, but then chose to spend less time with GESO and more time working on their Ph.D. theses. In almost every case, Blum said, GESO’s response to the student was to “bother them constantly to get them to come back.” He added that his friend experienced emotional manipulation over text with a GESO organizer.

“It is set up to chew up and spit out its organizers in a really unhealthy way,” Blum said.

Even beyond critiques of GESO’s tactics, some graduate students said they disagreed with GESO’s mission of obtaining a graduate student union through an election in the first place.

Despite his two-thirds claim, Greenberg has not released the exact number of GESO supporters. In an email to the News, Greenberg said the Oct. 15 banner delivered to Woodbridge Hall bore over two thirds of the nearly 2,000 graduate student teachers and researchers on campus. But Greenberg’s tally of the total number of graduate researchers conflicts with the roughly 3,000 enrolled at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and 4,000 at professional schools reported by the Office of Institutional Research. Greenberg did not answer questions about GESO’s methods for determining these figures.

But Nikita Bernardi GRD ’16, who is British and said graduate student unions are commonplace in England, said she was “shocked that there wasn’t a union here.”

“[GESO] has every right to do what is necessary to get a vote,” Bernardi said.

Blumoff said Yale graduate students are well paid and cared for compared to students at other schools. Yale also has channels of communicating with the administration through the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate, whose leadership meets with top Yale administrators on a regular basis, he added. Blumoff said he has no desire to tie his needs to those of members of other unions like Locals 34 and 35, which work closely with GESO.

“[GESO] seems to me that they want a union for the sake of having a union,” he said.

Despite four rallies from GESO over the past 18 months, three graduate and professional students out of eight interviewed had never heard of GESO. Paloma Caro FES ’16, who was one of these three, said professional school students like herself can be isolated from students at GSAS.

GSA Chairwoman Elizabeth Salm GRD ’18 said the GSA has no official position on the unionization of the graduate student body, adding that some GSA representatives are also GESO members.

GESO was founded in 1990.

Victor Wang contributed reporting.

  • alex

    Finnegan, how long will you cover GESO before you realize they are not organizing the professional schools (where students may not even be teachers / researchers)?

    • guest1123912310293

      … but many prof school students *are* researchers and teachers. Some even TA for undergrad classes. Prof school students are doing much of the same work as graduate students, which makes their exclusion from GESO worth emphasizing.

  • Hieronymus Machine

    “[H]e realized that the GESO member had memorized his photo, published online by the physics department. [He] described the encounter as ‘mildly creepy.'”

    ‘atza nice lab ya got there; wouldn’t want anything to happen to it…”

    In 2001 the SEIU won a state initiative in Washington that allowed the union to organize home health-care workers… Workers then had to pay union dues as a condition of receiving government payments. … In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled [the arrangement] violates the First Amendment right of home health-care workers who don’t wish to be union members.

    Workers have opted out in droves. In slightly over a year more than half of all state-paid child-care workers in Washington have chosen not to be union members.

    The comments are awesome. My fave:
    “It is universally true that any human collective is run solely for the benefit of its leaders. Dues are the mother’s milk of union leaders’ power & outsized compensation. And let’s face it, being a union leader sure beats being a union member. Members are merely dues-producing units. Leaders eat in fine restaurants; members empty bedpans. You’re looking at income inequality in the wild. Fortunately, people are not universally stupid. It may take a while for reality to sink in, but it always will. Gorbachev would understand.”
    h/t Tom Lauer

  • Anon Nymous

    Plenty of people dislike plenty of things about GESO and one could write a serious piece on that. But this looks lazy.

    The suggested “conflicting numbers” mainly arise from the fact that graduate and professional schools and GSAS have many tuition paying students who are not paid by the university and GESO does not seek to unionize these. This also means that it’s rather silly to go find people like Paloma Caro FES and make a story out of her not knowing about GESO, since she’s presumably a paying masters student.
    Maybe a story here is the fact that GESO’s website is uninformative
    and GESO doesn’t talk much (at all?) to the YDN, and so Schick
    misunderstood basic facts about the union.

    But, there is a real story about who exactly GESO is trying to unionize. They’re not trying to get the bio phd students on the medical campus. This has a technical meaning: GESO does not want them in the bargaining unit. There are several reasons for this, one being that the students there are on average less pro-union, and trying to change their mind is hard. Especially because your average GSAS phd student does not have access to the medical school facilities, so they literally can’t go there to talk to them.
    How realistic is the strategy of trying to exclude the medical school
    phd students from the bargaining unit? I don’t know. It will be hard
    for GESO to get a deal like that with Yale. If they end up being part of the proposed bargaining unit, does GESO have plan for campaigning on the medical school?

    The stuff about poor treatment of former organizers is probably true and if the YDN did a better job covering that side, they might help elicit better behavior from GESO organizers.

    The piece lacks focus when it swerves into comments by Blumoff about how “Yale graduate students are well paid and cared for compared to students at other schools”. I don’t care that much what one random student thinks about that. Why not take a while to actually assess the validity of the issues brought up by GESO? Maybe look into their claim that GESO is historically a big part of the reason Yale grad students have reasonable conditions now. Does the administration actually do stuff because GSA/GPSS asks them nicely, or do they do stuff because they are scared of GESO?

    Complicated questions, I know. Maybe it’s more than the YDN can handle.

  • David

    This isn’t a news story, as a news story would need an event to report on. At best, it’s a features article, but a features article demands more research. This is no more than anecdotes, an unspecified number of interviews, and no dissenting opinions. None of the statistics even attempt rigor or a large sampling size and should be ignored.

    This article says what amounts to “Some people feel some way” with a headline that implies “everyone feels this way right now,” with no voice given to the contrary side. That is more than just bad journalism, it’s bordering on criminal misrepresentation.

    • newhavencitizen

      Seriously. A newspaper is supposed to have some standards about repeating allegations like “follows people into bathrooms” from an anonymous source. Alas, grad students fighting to be able to support themselves have to work under the uncomprehending and untrained commentary of teenagers.

  • Disappointed Senior

    Familiar tactics… Which came first, Sarah Eidelson canvassers or GESO recruiters?

  • alex

    NYU was only able to do that because NYU admin agreed to respect a vote. GESO won’t vote until Yale says it will accept the result of that vote.

    • Hieronymus Machine

      “GESO won’t vote until Yale says it will accept the result of that vote.”

      ‘ceptin’ that they did stage a vote–and lost…

  • newhavencitizen

    Except that the Bush administration changed the rules to make graduate students ineligible, so everything you say here is incorrect.

  • ldffly

    Some of these people sound like petty Leninists. They missed the big one, so the next best thing is Yale. Watch out. If they ever get really serious, they’ll go get some muscle and take care of the non GESO malcontents.

  • nk

    I don’t know any of the people quoted in this story, but their claims sound all too familiar. After some grad students in my department left GESO because they were uninterested in repeatedly pressuring their colleagues to join, they were followed and harassed by GESO recruiters for weeks. GESO members would frequently wait in the lobby of our building after classes, or in the coffeeshop, or initiate a seemingly unending conversation if one of them spotted you in the library. These GESO recruiters were persistent and aggressive enough that one student in my department was on the verge of filing for a restraining order. GESO’s tactics are predatory. They believe that harassment is entirely justified to achieve their ends.

    I know I’m on their list of supposed GESO members, but there’s no way in hell I’ll be voting for them if there was unionization vote. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for there to be a graduate student union. I just don’t think it should be GESO.

    • ldffly

      A restraining order? I’m surprised there hasn’t been some pushing and shoving or worse.

    • Hieronymus Machine

      Thu… thu… thu… thugs? As note elsewhere though: tough to annoy ppl into complicity; GESO types typically lack the physical heft of their UNITE counterparts (and often the intellectual heft of, say, their sciences or pro-school complements as well, but that is beside the point).

  • Amanda

    Perhaps this is not the world’s greatest article, but this is a story that needs to be told. GESO harassed me nonstop during my time at Yale. In principle I might support the existence of a graduate union, but not from these people, never from these people.