This editorial represents the opinion of the News’ Editorial Board, a group of students that are separate from the newsroom and do not include any editors or staff members that produce news content.
This Wednesday, over a thousand members of the Yale and New Haven community called upon Yale to remain neutral in the unionization efforts of Local 33 in a march from President Peter Salovey’s office in Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall to his house on Hillhouse Avenue. Another chapter in the contentious history of relations between the University and the unrecognized graduate student workers’ union, Local 33, is unfolding on campus this fall. Empowered by a 2021 National Labor Relations Board ruling that reversed a Trump-era ban on grad students unionizing, Local 33 is mounting its most serious push for recognition since 2017, demanding pay raises, increased medical benefits, and more. The Editorial Board supports their efforts and calls on all Yale students — undergraduate, professional and graduate — to stand in solidarity with Local 33.
This is not the first time graduate students have fought to unionize, and this is not the first time Yale has used its influence to unfairly devalue the movement. When graduate students attempted to unionize in 2017, Yale sent campus-wide emails to undergraduates warning them of longer wait times for grading. Further, Yale warned instructors of disinterested TFs who would do less work, leaving more for professors to do. Yale operates with disproportionate influence, using its wealth, resources and administrative power to prevent collective action and unity across the University.
Yale is not only an educational institution — it is the largest employer in New Haven. As an employer, Yale has a vested interest in doing what every other employer does — maximizing revenue and minimizing expenses. The latter traditionally includes union-busting tactics like the ones we have seen in recent weeks. Yet the exploitation of the labor of graduate students who have few alternatives means that Yale’s mission must be bifurcated.
A common economic argument against unions is that since workers are free to choose their employers and employers compete for talent, workers can just select whatever employer maximizes their salary and benefits. Unfortunately, Yale is a monopsony — it has a monopoly over labor because grad students are required to be TAs, do research or otherwise provide their labor in accordance with the wages set by the University. This time trades off with potentially higher paying jobs like private tutoring, and international students might not be able to supplement their Yale work at all due to visa restrictions. Grad students’ only form of recourse is unionization.
As a prestigious Ivy League university, Yale needs to respect the people who provide the majority of its academic labor and form the foundation of its academic structure. By failing to remain neutral on the issue of unionization, Yale jeopardizes its own mission to improve “the world for future generations,” an act of hypocrisy that diminishes the value of the University as a whole.
The staff and students of Yale are not two separate populations. They are, in the cases of graduate students employed by Yale, one and the same. Graduate students are learning from Yale faculty and simultaneously being exploited for their labor. And it is ironic that Yale teaches students who “serve all sectors of society” while simultaneously pushing down those who serve its own sector of society. Yale cannot both seek “light and truth” and demean the very people who create the knowledge that buttresses the pursuit of light and truth.
As an institution, Yale is taking advantage of the labor provided by its graduate students. This trend is consistent with many universities across the country, which is why Yale should do better. As Local 33 takes the front stage in the discussion of Yale’s treatment of its graduate students, undergraduates also have a stake in this conversation. This is especially since many of Local 33’s demands revolve around securing better mental and physical health care. Not only does the decision around graduate students’ ability to unionize at Yale have a direct impact on our current TAs and graduate friends’ lives, it should also sway our opinions of universities any current undergraduates are considering applying to for graduate school.
As undergraduates, it is our responsibility to resist any and all of Yale’s attempts to discredit graduate student workers and their effort to unionize. As a university that largely caters to undergraduates, Yale places great burden on graduate workers to serve Yale College students. This is not limited to running discussion or lab sections, but includes grading, holding office hours, tutoring, mentoring and otherwise providing academic and professional support — all in addition to graduate students’ own research and other responsibilities. For undergraduates, graduate students have as much of an impact over our academic life, post-college plans and emotional health as any professor. Thus, it is imperative that, should Yale attempt to leverage the undergraduate population against the graduate unionization effort, we defy Yale’s influence and trust ourselves and our graduate student allies to determine our own best path forward.
Furthermore, while we shouldn’t value speed or convenience over the rights of graduate students, it’s also worth noting that this slowed-down academic environment the University claims to be an inevitable result of unionization is not a given, and more so, it may very well be a myth. For instance, as argued in an American Economic Review journal article written by the current United States secretary of treasury and former Ph.D. student of economics at Yale, Janet Yellen, empirical evidence suggests that higher wages can increase the productivity of workers, not diminish it. Giving workers sufficient health benefits, liveable wages and fair hours should not be seen as a deterrent to their labor force, but instead as necessary fixes that could potentially improve the quality and effectiveness of an institution. Finally, it is our obligation as members of the Yale community to stand by this unionization movement and recognize justice for graduate students as a cause not independent of ourselves.
The Editorial Board calls upon Yale University to commit to union neutrality while the graduate student body decides whether unionization is the appropriate course of action. We urge our undergraduate peers to stand in solidarity with Local 33 organizers and the wider graduate student community, whose intellectual and pedagogical labor shape so much of our Yale experience for the better.
The Editorial Board is a group of students that operates separately from the newsroom and does not include editors or staff members that oversee news content. Contact them at email@example.com.