Yale graduate students ramped up their organizing campaign on Tuesday as hundreds marched to deliver their union’s demands to the provost, calling for recognition and respect as part of the campus workforce.
They presented a petition to Provost Ben Polak with more than 1,100 signatures supporting the establishment of a graduate union, representing a large majority of the proposed bargaining unit of doctoral researchers and teaching assistants. The action marks the latest push by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO-UNITE HERE) for official recognition, and now, the solidification of their contract priorities. The campaign, which has been ongoing for years, has been reinvigorated lately with the unprecedented success of a graduate union drive at New York University with United Auto Workers.
Although the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has historically refused to recognize graduate workers as regular university employees (only about sixty U.S. campuses have recognized graduate worker unions), NYU’s relentless campaigning eventually won them an uncontested election process with the hard-fought cooperation of the administration. Graduate teaching and research workers at the University of Connecticut followed. Now the New School and Columbia are ramping up their own pressure campaigns to form unions with the voluntary recognition of the administration.
“The example that we really take inspiration from is the NYU example of going to the administration…getting to an election that’s free, fair and neutral, and getting to contract negotiations,” political science graduate student and GESO Chair Aaron Greenberg told The Nation.
And should push come to shove, activists have been heartened by the NLRB’s recent decision to reinstate the graduate workers’ union petitions at the New School and Columbia. The decision overrode the administrations’ opposition as well as an earlier dismissal of the case by a local regional director. The NLRB also moved to review its earlier precedent blocking the recognition of graduate students as workers (resulting from a 2004 case that thwarted a union drive at Brown University).