Last week, our union, Local 33, won elections across campus. Historians voted to form a union. Geologists voted to form a union. Based on the count to date, my own department, political science, did the same. Indeed, hundreds of graduate teachers across campus, forming majorities in their departments, made this choice. I’m sure I was not the only one who sometimes thought this day would never come. I am overjoyed.
While these elections mark a milestone for so many of us, a milestone is not a finish line. Last week’s votes mark tremendous victories, but we haven’t been organizing so that we could say we won. We’ve been organizing for economic security, better health care, institutional respect and equal treatment. Graduate teachers in Geology and Geophysics need secure access to teaching in their sixth year. Graduate teachers in History of Art who have experienced arbitrary changes to their workloads want clear rules and a transparent process for teaching allocations. Graduate teachers in East Asian Languages and Literatures are seeking clear job descriptions for language teaching. While a symbolic and legal success like last week’s is a major stride toward these goals, our contracts will be their embodiment. Those still lie ahead of us.
All of us in the leadership of Local 33 are acutely aware that many different viewpoints exist about our union. Building the broadest possible consensus remains our challenge. In striving for that ideal, we often fall short. But in each of the eight departments that voted to form a union, everyone — those who voted “yes” and those who voted “no” — can shape our first contracts. The quality of the contracts will depend on our ability to come together around a shared vision for each of our departments.
On Wednesday evening, my co-chair Robin Canavan and I participated in a forum on unionization hosted by the Graduate Student Assembly. Some in attendance supported the union vociferously; some opposed it. Many were ambivalent. But it was apparent that everyone wanted to figure out the best path forward for graduate students in order to change our university for the better. Everyone wanted the best possible forms of democratic representation. So do I.
The hypothesis of Local 33 is that it is through workplace solidarity — among ourselves and with other working people at Yale and in New Haven — that we have our best shot at creating the university we all want and deserve. The voters decided to test that hypothesis. Our success, however, depends on what happens next.
The union we’ve worked for years to build now has to grow and change. It will become stronger through the involvement of new members as well as old ones. Each person who has participated in our union since I’ve been at Yale has shaped it in some way, large or small, obvious or unexpected. As we move toward the next milestone, we’ll all get to learn from one another what we’re capable of.
Graduate teachers in each of our departments have different priorities and concerns. Forming a union creates a pathway for working together toward solutions on the issues we face. Some of us need to know that our jobs are secure and that our pay won’t be cut arbitrarily. Some of us need a grievance procedure to address instances of discrimination in our workplace. Some of us need better access to mental health care or affordable child care. Together, we now have the chance to make progress on these issues for one another.
Aaron Greenberg is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science and the Local 33 Chair. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .