Yale is considering an appeal of the National Labor Relations Board’s decision last month allowing unofficial graduate student union Local 33 to hold separate elections in nine departments, according to University President Peter Salovey.
“We’re looking at our options,” Salovey said on Friday. “The most immediate question is whether to ask for a review in Washington of the decision by the regional NLRB.”
Yale’s Office of General Council is working alongside labor lawyers from the New York firm Proskauer Rose to determine whether Yale should file a “request for review” challenging the decision by NLRB Regional Director John Walsh. In his first public comments on the case since the NLRB ruled in favor of Local 33, Salovey told the News that the University has not settled on a decision.
“As soon as we decide the course that we will take, we will make it clear to the campus, but those decisions haven’t been made,” he said.
Under the NLRB’s rules, the University has until two weeks after the regional director confirms the outcome of the elections, which have not yet been scheduled, to file a request for review with the national labor board.
If the University appeals the decision before the elections are held, the NLRB would most likely allow the elections to go forward before evaluating Yale’s request. But following the elections, the NLRB might choose to impound the ballots, delaying a vote count until after the appeal is decided, according to Stanford law professor William Gould, a former chairman of the NLRB.
“My view is that there should be impoundment, given the novelty of the issue and the potential for long-standing delays over hard-fought issues of first impression,” he said.
Local 33 filed for union elections in 10 departments last August, shortly after the NLRB ruled that graduate students at private universities have the right to unionize. Yale contested that approach — an untested election strategy based on a controversial 2011 labor board decision that paved the way for union elections in so-called “micro-units” — in court in Hartford. After hearings ended in October, Local 33 dropped its petition for the Comparative Literature for reasons that remain unclear.
But on Jan. 24, Walsh ruled in favor of Local 33, writing that the board’s decision in the case Specialty Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, which permitted certified nursing assistants to form a separate bargaining unit at a nursing home, applies to academic departments at Yale.
Gould said he expects Yale to appeal the decision, given how aggressively the University has fought Local 33’s departmental election strategy since August.
“Yale has invested considerable time and energy in arguing for different units, so this is going to have a direct bearing on the representative structure that’s going to affect them,” Gould said. “On a matter so basic as this, I would imagine that in their view, that would argue for a review.”
He added that a Yale appeal might create a “greater potential for discord” between the University and Local 33 and hurt the morale of graduate students.
In a statement to the News, Local 33 Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 said he hoped the University and Local 33 could get to work as quickly as possible.
“With all due respect to President Salovey, we believe the most immediate question is how quickly we can get to the negotiating table and work out solutions to the urgent issues of childcare, mental health care and secure pay,” he wrote.
But Elizabeth Mo GRD ’18 — who helps run the anti-Local 33 organization GASO, a play on the acronym for the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, the union’s previous incarnation — said she hopes Yale appeals the NLRB decision.
“I think it’s the right course of action because the microbargaining strategy leaves an important decision to a small minority of students, but that decision will have an impact beyond just those students,” Mo said.
According to University spokespeople, only students who are currently teaching in the nine departments — East Asian Languages and Literatures, English, Geology and Geophysics, History, History of Art, Mathematics, Physics, Political Science and Sociology — will be eligible to vote in the nine Local 33 elections.
GESO was rebranded as Local 33 in March 2016.