When I first joined Local 33, I knew we’d have to go through a process to achieve recognition. I didn’t think it would be easy for graduate teachers to unionize, but I certainly thought it would be possible.
This would seem particularly true at an institution like Yale. Many employers fight tooth and nail against their workers. Yale’s supposed to be different. It’s a nonprofit institution with liberal ideals. As we’ve all heard, it is “at once a tradition, a company of scholars, a society of friends.” There may be disagreements within a tradition, disputes among friends. It’s fair to say that’s what we thought we were engaged in. But when you follow the rules and reach a resolution, isn’t that that?
So this is what the union did. We asked Yale administrators to sit down with us voluntarily, and they refused. Fair enough. So we went by the book — as the University spent years telling us to do. As former Yale President Richard Levin wrote, “The [National Labor Relations Board] process has been carefully developed to protect the rights of all parties and to ensure freedom of choice by those entitled to decide whether they wish to be represented by a particular union.”
Then the union went through the NLRB process and won elections. The debate was over. It’s time to negotiate — or so we thought. Then Yale refused.
Yale is currently declining to bargain on the grounds that there are still pending legal proceedings. In truth, they’ve sought duplicative proceedings and are using them as an excuse to avoid bargaining.
There are two issues Yale claims are in play. First, Yale filed a request for the NLRB to review the decision by NLRB Region 1 to hold elections in the first place. And Yale is trying to file another request for review. In fact, they are still contesting our very right to unionize under the 2016 Columbia ruling. So any claim that Yale “respects the process” must be taken with a big grain of salt: They don’t want there to be any process.
Second, there are proceedings on challenged ballots in two departments. The administration calls these elections “too close to call.” But in both departments, a majority of the unchallenged voters voted yes and so did the challenged ones — they signed a petition telling Yale that fact. So Yale’s efforts to drag the union through a new trial to determine whether those ballots should be opened serve no purpose except to delay the outcome. Yale is not “respect[ing] the legal process,” as it claims. It’s abusing that process.
When we began the NLRB process, we knew it might be contentious at times, but we thought that Yale would respect it as a fair way to settle things. In truth, the administration may have thought that too last fall. Then Donald Trump became president.
NLRB members are appointed by the president. Republicans have viewed the NLRB under the Obama administration as too aggressive in backing workers’ rights, and they’re eager to roll back decisions like the ones that recognized our work and allowed us to vote. Yale’s legal delay tactics threaten to stall this case until Trump appointees make up a majority of the NLRB.
By refusing to bargain with us, Yale is taking advantage of the Trump administration and acting like a traditional employer. But it isn’t one. It’s responsible to us. When the administration strays onto the wrong path, the Yale community has a powerful role to play in correcting its course. Yale refused to admit women for years before going coed. In the 1980s, the University refused to bargain with Local 34. And Yale said no before saying yes to renaming Calhoun College. Our University relies on all of us to make our voices heard and set the institution straight when it errs.
Based on its history, I am confident that Yale will get there in the end. I believe Yale will choose to do what’s right. That’s why we’re giving the administration a final deadline extension — something we’re used to as teaching fellows. Yale has until April 25 to sit down with us. Their choices now are simple: negotiate fairly or ally with President Trump and be held accountable by the Yale community.
Aaron Greenberg is a graduate student in Political Science and the chair of Local 33. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .