A decade-long push to secure affordable child care for students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences has been put on hold due to administrative fears that any new funding would invite legal scrutiny from Yale’s unofficial graduate student union, Local 33.
Graduate School Dean Lynn Cooley told the News last semester that affordable child care was her top fundraising priority. But despite that assurance, the Graduate School has not announced new funding to support the 4.5 percent of graduate students who have children.
This semester, the child care campaign has faced further delays because administrators fear the legal repercussions of announcing new benefits while union elections are pending, according to Graduate Student Assembly Chairman Nicholas Vincent GRD ’17 and former Graduate and Professional Student Senate President Elizabeth Mo GRD ’18.
“There are concerns that if students are given certain benefits or certain new deals, it could potentially be viewed as an intimidation or bribe tactic by the administration to not be a part of the union,” Vincent said. “It felt like a lot of pieces were falling into place, and now it’s been put on hold with a lot of other advocacy efforts.”
But in a statement to the News, Local 33 Chairman Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 promised not to file a legal complaint against Yale if the University announced child care subsidies.
“From Local 33, to the GSA, to the GPSS, grad students have been telling the administration that we need affordable child care for years,” Greenberg said. “If the administration decides to take action on this urgent issue, Local 33 will not file an Unfair Labor Practice charge.”
In the 1964 case National Labor Review Board v. Exchange Parts Co., the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers are not allowed to offer benefits to employees while a union election is pending, with the purpose of persuading employees to vote against a union. If Yale announced new child care subsidies and Local 33 had reason to believe that the benefits were intended to reduce support for the union, it could file an unfair labor practice charge against the University.
Provost Ben Polak and Associate General Counsel John Clune did not respond to requests for comment.
In an interview with the News, Mo said the subsidy failed to materialize last semester because the Provost’s Office was still looking for a way to include professional student parents in the initiative.
Cooley told the News in a statement that she still hopes to “identify a source of funding for a child care subsidy for graduate students.” She did not respond to questions about whether Local 33 has affected the status of the child care initiative.
Anna Jurkevics GRD ’17, a parent and Local 33 supporter, said graduate students should not blame the union for delays in the push for child care support.
“On May 5, 2015, I marched with hundreds of my colleagues in Local 33 to deliver a petition to the Provost calling on him to create affordable child care options,” she said. “Am I now to blame for the administration’s inaction?”
In August, after the National Labor Relations Board ruled that graduate students have the right to unionize, Local 33 filed for union elections in 10 separate departments, an unprecedented election strategy that Yale contested in labor court in Hartford. Those hearings ended in October. In the coming months, NLRB Regional Director John Walsh will determine whether the departmental elections can go forward.
The recent push by the GSA and GPSS for child care funding is not the first time that graduate students have sought financial support for student parents.
In a report on child care released in September, the GSA outlined a string of broken promises by Yale administrators who pledged to secure greater child care support. In 2005, the University reviewed its child care options and published a report promising “enhancements” that ranged from opening more slots at existing day-care centers to building a new on-campus child care facility with space for the children of graduate students. Many of those plans fell through, partly because of external factors like the 2008 global financial crisis.
“I feel frustrated now, because the reason has changed from ‘we’re trying to figure out how to extend this financial support’ to ‘well, we don’t want to do it because we don’t want to be sued,’” Mo said. “In my eyes that seems like a weak argument, because it could benefit graduate students.”
Mo — who spearheaded the push for a child care subsidy last year and now co-manages the anti-Local 33 group GASO — added that the prospect of a union election has left administrators who are increasingly supportive of child care funding “scared of their own shadow.”
Data gathered by the GPSS last fall shows that student parents in both the graduate school and the professional schools take on thousands of dollars in debt each year to pay for child care.
Will Culligan GRD ’20, the current president of the GPSS, emphasized that the costs and logistics of child care support, not just the union issue, are a major barrier to securing funding for all graduate and professional student parents.
“While we were told a while back that child care support was coming soon, apparently finding the right strategy to meet the needs of current graduate and professional parents in New Haven has been challenging,” Culligan said. “Based on this, I think that GPSS and GSA should and will continue to push on these fronts.”
Still, as graduate student parents wait for more support, the Yale School of Medicine, which does not have to contend with potential graduate student union elections, moved late last month to offer child care support for student parents.
In an email to the Medical School community, Registrar for Student Affairs Terri Tolson announced that the families of medical-student parents are eligible for free health-care coverage through Yale Health this academic year — a benefit that is already available to student parents at the Graduate School.