I never thought I would join a union, let alone lead one. My mom — a special education teacher in Los Angeles — had always been a union member. I knew that her union had something to do with why my family had great health insurance. But I didn’t know much else.
Over the past four years I have learned a lot about unions. When it comes down to it, a union is a community of people who look out for one another.
My union, Local 33, is a community of amazing people. We are scientists and humanists from all over the world and with expertise in every area of human knowledge. We love our work. We also look out for each other.
We advocate for positive change for those of us who need it, because we know that more is possible when we advocate together. Some of us need access to mental health care or better dental and vision coverage, so we push for improvements. Some of us face financial insecurity and so we push for more transparent and equal pay for the work that we do. Some of us have children and so we push to make affordable child-care options available for graduate teachers with families.
In my time at Yale, our community has grown so much. It’s hard to believe that more than two years have gone by since our first (rainy) march down Wall Street. In the many semesters since, we have been active all over campus. We’ve had thousands of conversations with one another in downtown coffee shops and departmental offices. We’ve talked about the work we do, the changes we want to pursue together and our visions for the kind of university we want Yale to be.
We have turned our conversations into action, pushing for concrete improvements on the issues that matter to us. We have been joined by members from throughout the Yale community and neighbors from across New Haven. And we have been joined by colleagues at universities across the country. Our campus is just one of many where graduate teachers like us are deciding to come together and form unions.
Last spring our union took a major step forward. In March we had a huge convention to celebrate the founding of our union, where the president of the International Union UNITE HERE came to New Haven to issue an official charter for a new UNITE HERE local — Local 33.
Then just two weeks ago, on Aug. 23, big news arrived. The National Labor Relations Board issued a major decision that recognized our right to advocate for ourselves together. The NLRB said that in addition to being students we are also employees who do work and are entitled to the rights of other working people.
Of course, we knew this already. But that didn’t stop me from being overwhelmed with joy and excitement when I heard that the NLRB had finally ruled in our favor. The NLRB’s decision enables us to make our union official. It makes our community stronger. It empowers us to come together, negotiate with University President Peter Salovey as equals and reach consensus on the conditions of our work.
I feel so lucky to get to be here at Yale in this historic moment, and even more so to get to share it with such an incredible graduate school community. The significance of this moment has reverberated far and wide and generated waves of support across the country — from the editorial board of The New York Times to former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton LAW ’73.
With each step forward for our union, more positive change has become possible. I’m ready to take this next step, vote and have our voices heard. It’s all up from here!
Aaron Greenberg is the LOCAL 33 Chair. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .