Local 33 became the third main platform for graduate student organizing last Thursday after six of the University’s academic departments voted to unionize, forcing two of Yale’s largest elected student governing bodies into a unique position.
Leaders of the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Senate — which together represent over 7,000 students — told the News that their governing bodies remain committed to serving their constituencies, even as Local 33 moves to begin negotiating with the University on behalf of six departments.
“We are completely dedicated to our approach that we’ve taken through the years — soliciting opinions from students, collecting data, reporting on it to the administration,” Graduate Student Assembly Chair Nicholas Vincent GRD ’17 said. “I don’t foresee anything changing on that anytime soon. We’re still going to be focused on advocating on behalf of all students.”
In a Feb. 22 email to the graduate school student body, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Lynn Cooley said that she was not convinced that Local 33 could effectively represent the interests of all graduate students and urged students to look toward the Graduate Student Assembly for complete representation. The assembly represents the approximately 3,000 students at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, while the Graduate and Professional Student Senate represents over 7,000 students from the GSAS and professional schools.
“The Assembly is democratically elected across all 56 departments of the GSAS and has an established track record of accomplishment,” Cooley wrote. She pointed to the 2016 Sixth Year Funding Initiative, for which the Graduate Student Assembly successfully lobbied, which guarantees financial support to students on track to complete their dissertations in the humanities and social sciences through their sixth year.
Vincent said that a number of GSAS students have reached out to him since Thursday with questions and concerns regarding graduate student unionization. Vincent said that though the agenda for the assembly’s General Assembly Meeting on Wednesday does not include anything specifically dedicated to Local 33, students are free to raise concerns on any topic during the open floor portion of the meeting.
“Even if it gets to the point where Local 33 has some kind of bargaining power, it is still for the vast, vast minority of students,” Vincent said. “We definitely still have our eyes and ears out for the whole graduate student body, whether or not they will be represented by Local 33.”
In a Monday email to the graduate and professional student body, Graduate and Professional Student Senate President William Culligan GRD ’20 MED ’20 invited Local 33 to collaborate with the senate to work toward shared goals. Still, in his email, Culligan added that the Graduate and Professional Student Senate has received isolated reports of harassment by union organizers as recently as last week and urged Local 33 to create a “transparent and democratic leadership structure” and take charges of harassment seriously.
“Certainly right now, we are going to continue advocating for the things that we advocate for,” Culligan told the News. “What we are trying to do — to make graduate and professional student life better in all sorts of ways — doesn’t have to be an ‘either or’ with collective bargaining.”
He added that student responses to his email were largely split down the middle between pro-Local 33 students and students who are worried about the Union.
According to Vincent, the rise of Local 33 complicates the relationship between the University administration and graduate student governing bodies like the GSA and GPSS. He noted potential legal and procedural details which the assemblies may have to consider if they act on behalf of a student who has bargaining representation through Local 33.
And Dan Bowling, a labor expert at Duke School of Law, said that once certified, the union is the exclusive representative of the covered students for terms and conditions of employment by law. This means that student governing bodies like the GSA and GPSS may have to remain on the sidelines for certain students who are part of Local 33.
Though it is unclear whether Local 33 has reached out to the University to begin the bargaining process, National Labor Relations Board rules stipulate that any party may file an objection to a labor election within seven days, in attempt to reverse the outcome of the election. Bowling told the News last week that as the losing side in this labor election, Yale is likely to file an objection.
The NLRB is also set to hold hearings in the coming weeks to decide the eligibility of Yale masters and professional students who voted “under challenge” in last week’s elections in the Political Science and East Asian Languages and Literatures Departments.
Both Vincent and Culligan said that Local 33 has not reached out to them personally since Thursday’s elections.