As the Local 33 hunger strike stretched into its eleventh day, students and faculty continued to debate the graduate student union’s tactics and the uncompromising stance of the University.
In a campus-wide email on Wednesday, University President Peter Salovey reiterated his long-standing opposition to Local 33, criticizing the union’s departmental election strategy and writing that “threats of self-harm have no place in rational debate when an established dispute resolution process still exists.”
In response to that message, a group of eight Yale Law School students released an open letter arguing that the departmental strategy is supported by legal precedent. “Rather than continue with dilatory tactics, Yale must obey the law and begin negotiations,” the letter states. Meanwhile, a faculty petition calling for Yale to start the collective bargaining process has accumulated nearly 70 signatures.
Eight members of Local 33 — Local 33 Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, Co-chair Robin Canavan GRD ’19, Camille Cole GRD ’20, Charles Decker GRD ’18, Lukas Moe GRD ’19, Julia Powers GRD ’19, Emily Sessions GRD ’19 and Jifeng Shen GRD ’18 — began the hunger strike on April 25 in an effort to persuade Yale to open contract negotiations with the union.
On Thursday, Powers dropped out for medical reasons and was replaced by Alyssa Battistoni GRD ’18, according to the New Haven Independent. Local 33 announced at the beginning of the fast that the hunger strikers would switch with other students if their health deteriorated.
“Each faster has committed to fasting until the Yale administration agrees to negotiate, unless a doctor says they are at risk of permanent damage to their health,” Greenberg told the News. “If that happens, there are waves of Local 33 members who are prepared to step in and carry the fast forward.”
In an interview with the News on Friday, Battistoni said she was “deeply honored” to join the hunger strike and expressed admiration for the fasters’ courage.
In the weeks since Local 33 won labor elections in eight academic departments, the University has refused to open contract negotiations, citing legal appeals still pending in front of the National Labor Relations Board. But union supporters argue that Yale is looking to delay the legal process until President Donald Trump appoints conservative officials opposed to graduate student unionization to the NLRB.
On Friday, members of Local 33 unfurled a banner inside the School of Management emblazoned with the words “Trump University” — a reference both to the legal delays and to the library in SOM named after Wilbur Ross ’59, the secretary of commerce in the Trump administration.
Asked to respond to the law students’ letter, University spokesman Tom Conroy quoted from Salovey’s original message, which accused the union of trying to “short-circuit” the legal process and called the departmental strategy undemocratic. And in response to Powers’ withdrawal, Conroy noted that the University “has already expressed the wish that they all decide to end the fast before medical intervention is needed.”
Over the past ten days, the Local 33 hunger strike has drawn a mixed response from students and faculty. Last week, the Yale College Republicans held a picnic on Beinecke Plaza designed to mock the fasting students, who are based in a large tent just yards away from Woodbridge Hall.
But another undergraduate group, Students Unite Now, which advocates for the elimination of the student income contribution and is affiliated with Local 33’s umbrella organization UNITE HERE, is collecting signatures on a petition supporting the hunger strike.