Local 33 UNITE HERE, the graduate and professional student union, voted to ratify its first contract with the University on Friday and Saturday. Effective immediately, the five-year contract secures higher pay, improved health care and increased protections for international students.

With an immediate 17.7-percent raise for stipended PhD graduate workers next semester, Yale PhD workers will be the highest-paid PhD workers in the Ivy League with a minimum $48,330 stipend. 

Of over 3,200 workers eligible to vote, according to an estimate from the New Haven Independent, 1,705 members voted in favor of ratifying, with 10 dissenting. 

“I feel incredibly proud,” said Adam Waters, a member of Local 33’s bargaining committee. “This is a really amazing contract that’s going to be transformative for me. And I know it’s going to be transformative for a lot of other graduate workers as well … [Yale] is going to be among the best places to work as a graduate worker in the country.” 

The landslide vote for ratification follows last week’s announcement of a historic tentative agreement between Local 33 and Yale which was reached after nine months of contract negotiations, the culmination of 33 years of graduate worker activism. Graduate and professional workers voted in favor of forming a union in early 2023, garnering 91 percent of the vote. 

The newly-approved contract promises a 30-percent raise for stipended PhD grad workers over the course of the five-year contract, an annual $300,000 fund for out-of-pocket dental and health care expenses and guaranteed union recognition until 2031. Waters said that this recognition protects against a possible reversal of graduate workers’ union-eligibility by a second Donald Trump administration. 

The contract also establishes a clear grievance procedure that includes a union steward and states members’ right to a workplace free from discrimination, harassment and retaliation. 

“[The grievance procedure and fair treatment language] is really incredible language that is going to make sure that graduate workers are empowered and have the power to, in a transparent and timely way, ensure that they have a safe work environment,” Waters said.

Spanning just nine months, Local 33’s negotiations with the University took far less time than peer institutions. 

Harvard University’s graduate student union took almost two years to settle an initial contract, while negotiations at Brown University lasted 17 months. Waters credited the quick turnaround to the strong working relationship between the union and Yale. 

“This new contract reflects negotiations between Local 33–UNITE HERE and Yale that were conducted with collegiality and respect,” Provost Scott Strobel wrote in an email sent to Yale community members Monday morning. “Throughout the election and negotiation processes, the university has been guided by its commitment to the educational and research mission and to the well-being and success of all its students and graduate workers.”

Waters additionally expressed gratitude for the solidarity shown by Locals 34 and 35 in Local 33’s push for a fair contract. Local 34 is Yale’s clerical and technical workers union, and Local 35 represents Yale’s service and maintenance workers.  

In his email, Strobel said that the University will provide more information in the new year, including details on where to direct questions and resources to support faculty in the implementation of the contract. 

“In the coming days, Local 33 and the university will each reach out to those affected by the contract with further details,” the University and Local 33 wrote in a joint statement to the News. 

The product of graduate student organizing that initially began in 1990, the ratified contract will expire on July 31, 2028.

Laura Ospina covers Yale-New Haven relations and the Latine community for the City desk. Originally from North Carolina's Research Triangle, she is a sophomore in Branford College majoring in Political Science.