On Thursday, approximately 300 graduate students — teaching fellows in nine departments across campus — will vote on whether the Local 33 graduate student union will represent them in contract negotiations with the University. I am not eligible to vote because I am not currently teaching in the Physics Department. But if I could vote, I would be voting “no” on Local 33.
I do not take this position lightly. I care deeply about improving graduate student life, and Local 33 claims it will be fighting for many of the issues about which I am passionate. But throughout my experience in graduate student government, I have come to the conclusion that Local 33 is wholly unfit for contract negotiations with Yale, and that electing this union will ultimately be counter to graduate students’ best interests.
Many complaints have motivated my opposition to Local 33. Primarily, I take umbrage with its long history of harassing students for support and the extremely limited number of students represented in this election. These shortcomings have been well-documented in the News. However, Local 33’s lack of awareness about the very issues for which it claims to fight has been less discussed, and has weighed just as heavily in my opposition. Its ignorance runs throughout its platform, including health care, child care and pay raises. Yet as an example of Local 33’s unpreparedness, I will consider its position on one particular issue, promoting racial and gender equity on campus.
Local 33 claims it will fight in negotiations to ensure racial and gender equity. While this is certainly an admirable goal, Local 33’s propositions to achieve this remain unconvincing. Organizers have argued that the union would provide a community of support for graduate students facing inequality because of their identity. Furthermore, they argue that grievance procedures, written into our contract, would prevent sexual harassment and racial discrimination. These are important components to ensuring an equitable community, but they are far from enough.
Local 33 wrongly denies that Yale already provides mechanisms for support and adjudication. Communities and offices exist on campus to provide any support a student may be looking for, including the four cultural centers, the Chaplain’s Office, the Office of Graduate Student Development and Diversity, and the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education Center. Yale also already provides myriad grievance procedures to address inequalities in the workplace at the Title IX office, the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and the Office for Equal Opportunity Programs.
Claiming that support mechanisms do not exist at Yale when they demonstrably do is not just against graduate students’ best interests. Students in need may not seek out resources if they don’t believe they exist. But worse, it also distracts from the deeper reasons for lingering racial and gender inequality on campus and the actions that must be taken to address them. Many of the offices previously mentioned already take action in a positive way. Their projects may not make stirring rally cries, but the space between providing a community and guaranteeing grievance procedures is where progress is truly made. Local 33 has done nothing to convince me it understands this, so I have no faith that this union will be able to improve equality within the Graduate School through contract negotiations.
Not only will Local 33 be unable to improve graduate students’ lives in our contract, but its ignorance distracts from the real solutions to our problems and hinders others who are working toward them. The core mission of student government at Yale, the Graduate Student Assembly and Graduate and Professional Student Senate has been to tackle problems graduate students face and continually work to find solutions. However, recent projects, including expanded child care support and negotiations for an improved dental plan, have been put on hold this year because of the unionization fight. Contract negotiations will only continue to slow the real progress existing student government can make.
The bottom line for graduate students is this: Local 33 has not made the effort to truly understand the issues that graduate students face every day. It has the talking-point version, but little real substance. Local 33 will only be able to provide graduate students advocacy we already have, but at a lower quality. We deserve better of our representation and of our union. I strongly encourage students voting on Thursday to vote “no” on Local 33, and to demand more from those who seek to represent us.
Stephen Albright is a graduate student in the Physics Department. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .