Time to negotiate

Dear President Salovey: As members of the Yale Law faculty, we write to express our disagreement with your May 3, 2017 public letter regarding graduate student teaching fellow unionization.  In the letter, you suggest that graduate teachers who have voted to unionize and are now pressing Yale to enter into negotiations with their chosen representatives are acting undemocratically, and exhibiting a lack of “[r]espect for law and legal process, civil argument and persuasion.”  This casts unfair aspersions on our students, and obscures Yale’s own tendentious approach to the law.  We urge you to reverse course and begin negotiations with those represented.

On February 23, 2017, graduate teachers in eight Yale departments – English, History, Political Science, East Asian Languages and Literatures, Mathematics, Sociology, History of Art, and Geology and Geophysics – voted to unionize, and chose UNITE HERE Local 33 as their representative.  Yale has since refused to negotiate with the union.  In response, a group of graduate teachers has begun a hunger strike on Beinecke Plaza.

Your May 3 letter states that the Yale administration has chosen not to negotiate with the union because you view the strategy of organizing department-by-department rather than across the entire graduate school as “undemocratic.” Each of the departments in question, however, voted in fair and free elections to unionize.  The one department (Physics) whose graduate teachers voted against the union will not be represented.  Bargaining, as you know, would only cover units in which graduate teachers voted for representation.  Voting in smaller units may make it easier for those who wish to exercise their right to organize, but we fail to see how the result can be described as undemocratic.

We also take issue with your suggestion that graduate teachers have shown a lack of respect for legal process and rational argument.  As you are well aware, the graduate teachers have pressed their case over many years, including through legal process before the NLRB.  Nothing in their approach reflects a lack of respect for law.  Indeed, the law is on their side. As you know, once a union is certified as a bargaining representative, it is an unfair labor practice for an employer to refuse to bargain. See NLRA 8(a)(5). The university’s insistence on delay and further litigation appears to be an effort to take advantage of the appointments that President Donald Trump will make to the NLRB, which we consider misguided.

We call on Yale to respect its legal obligations to negotiate with the unionized departments, and to bring this matter to a constructive resolution.


Bruce Ackerman, Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science
Muneer I. Ahmad, Clinical Professor of Law
Anne Alstott, Jacquin D. Bierman Professor in Taxation
Ian Ayres, William K. Townsend Professor of Law
James Forman Jr., Professor of Law
David Grewal, Professor of Law
Amy Kapczynski, Professor of Law
Issa Kohler-Hausmann, Associate Professor of Law and Associate Professor of Sociology
Daniel Markovits, Guido Calabresi Professor of Law
Tracey L. Meares, Walton Hale Hamilton Professor of Law
Anika Singh Lemar, Clinical Associate Professor of Law
Michael J. Wishnie, William O. Douglas Clinical Professor of Law
Gideon Yaffe, Professor of Law, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Psychology