Today, more than 300 grad student workers at Yale will vote on whether or not they want to unionize. You may be shocked to learn that the powers that be at this enlightened center of liberal learning are not thrilled!
To get a sense of why Yale’s grad student workers do want to unionize, see here, or here, or here, or here. Yale’s union push is just one part of a much broader push to unionize by grad students, adjunct professors, and other workers in academia—in the Ivy League and beyond—who have, as well-educated people, come to the conclusion that they are being screwed by their universities.
This sort of labor activism is in the finest tradition of America and is proof that a good education can actually spur meaningful and intelligent change. Naturally, the the dean at *subtly raises voice so passersby can hear* YALE is against it. This email went out to graduate students yesterday:
From: Lynn Cooley, Dean of the Graduate School
Date: Wed, Feb 22, 2017 at 3:01 PM
Subject: Tomorrow’s Nine Union Elections (February 23, 2017)
To: Graduate Students
Dear Graduate Students and Spring Semester Teaching Fellows:
We are now on the eve of nine separate elections to vote on the question of whether the UNITE HERE-Local 33 union should represent all current and future teaching fellows in nine of our 56 departments. Only 313 students are eligible to vote tomorrow, including just 10% of doctoral students. Although the elections are far from inclusive, I hope all 313 students will vote after careful consideration of whether Local 33 is right for Yale. There are several Op-eds in the Yale Daily News today, including one from FAS Dean Gendler, and the GSA is hosting an information session this evening from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. in WLH Sudler Hall.
As Dean of the Graduate School, I am responsible for the academic progress and well-being of all graduate students. I work with dedicated, creative deans in the Graduate School and Directors of Graduate Studies in all our programs toward the goal of providing the best possible training environment for students. We benefit enormously from the efforts of students in the Graduate Student Assembly and the Graduate & Professional Student Senate who thoughtfully investigate and present student priorities for improving their academic and personal lives. Together, the deans, faculty, and students have made enormous improvements in programs and benefits for doctoral students. As I have said before, I do not believe students should be considered employees, and I am not convinced Local 33 can effectively represent the interests of all students.
Below is more detailed information on several topics that students have raised with me.
•Although these elections are not inclusive, I strongly urge you to vote if you are among the few who are eligible.Only 313 students who are teaching this semester are eligible to vote; 90% of all GSAS students will have no voice. Even in the nine departments holding elections, more than 50% of Ph.D. students are not allowed to vote. Even so, Local 33 has sought to further suppress voter turnout by lobbying to limit the number of voting days, hours, and locations. When Local 33 (formerly “GESO”) conducted and lost its own Yale election in 2003, nearly 1400 teaching fellows voted. It is telling that the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA), while remaining neutral on the general concept of unionization, voted last fall not only to oppose Local 33 but also to oppose its department-by-department voting strategy.
•A union, once elected, is not a student organization that you can choose to join or not. If UNITE HERE-Local 33 were voted in, then every current and future teaching fellow in one of these nine departments will be legally required to be represented by Local 33. Teaching fellows in the covered departments would then be subject to whatever that union negotiated with the university, including the likely required payment of fees or dues to the union, whether a given teaching fellow voted for the union or not. There is no “opt out” once a union is in place.
•Many Yale graduate students have spoken out repeatedly against Local 33's organizing tactics that they have experienced as forms of harassment and intimidation. Such conduct raises serious questions about Local 33’s respect for the views of all graduate students.
•UNITE HERE is a local, national, and international service industry union whose interests may differ significantly from those of Yale graduate students. In fact, Local 33 at Yale is the only group of graduate students nationally that UNITE HERE has ever sought to represent. According to its website, “UNITE HERE represents workers throughout the U.S. and Canada who work in the hotel, gaming, food service, airport, textile, manufacturing, distribution, laundry, and transportation industries.” A portion of the dues that Local 33 would collect from teaching fellows in unionized departments here at Yale would go to support UNITE HERE and its broader agenda.
•Yale graduate students already have an elected representative group with the sole purpose of advocating for their needs and interests: the GSA. The Assembly is democratically elected across all 56 departments of the GSAS, and has an established track record of accomplishments. Last year, the GSA lobbied for the landmark Sixth Year Funding Initiative, providing guaranteed support to students in the humanities and social sciences through their sixth year who are on track to complete their dissertation. Since the vast majority of science students already had access to funding beyond their fifth year, the new policy brought the same security to doctoral students in all three divisions of the Graduate School. The GSA also helped to secure a standard tuition fellowship from GSAS to cover the cost of the Continuous Registration Fee (CRF) for teaching fellows registered full-time beyond the sixth year of study.
Graduate student unionization has been a topic of discussion on campus for more than two decades, and this conversation, no doubt, will continue after the nine elections tomorrow. I look forward to further engagement with you on this important issue.
Lynn Cooley, Ph.D.
Dean, Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
I congratulate the Yale University administration for being able to perfectly mimic the sort of bullshit anti-union propaganda that is routinely foisted upon the Walmart workers of the world. Who says the Ivy League is its own little bubble, eh?
This has been part one million of the never-ending series called “People Who Make More Than You Tell You Why You Shouldn’t Unionize.”
Update: Almost all of the departments voted in favor of unionizing. From Local 33 on Friday morning: “Graduate teachers in the Departments of English, Geology and Geophysics, History, History of Art, Math, and Sociology voted in favor of forming a union, and graduate teachers in the Physics Department voted against forming a union. Of the ballots counted Thursday evening, a majority of graduate teachers in the Departments of East Asian Languages and Literatures and Political Science also voted in favor of forming a union. Some ballots cast in these two departments have not yet been counted, as these voters’ eligibility has yet to be resolved by the NLRB.”