Yale’s epic labor battle between graduate student employees and the administration has cycled through a generation of graduating classes and many doctoral candidacies, and graduate student organizers have finally officially named their union Local 33. A jubilant chartering convention last week in New Haven certified that an overwhelming majority of the proposed unit have signed cards signifying support for unionization. The move puts an official seal (blessed by a number of state officials and the union leadership) on the more than 1,000 signatures the group gathered for a petition demanding a fair union election last year.
Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) chair Aaron Greenberg said that the formal naming of Local 33 shows it is ready to unionize with or without an official nod from the administration, and hope to spur the debate forward by taking the initiative, symbolic though it may be:
“We are not going to wait for Yale to give us an election to act like and be the union that we are,” he tells The Nation. “And I think a lot of the issues that we are fighting about, whether it’s access to childcare, adequate mental healthcare, race and gender equity, security of pay. These are issues that are not going to wait for us to have a union. These are really pressing for our members. And we’re ready to fight on them.”
The chartering of the local doesn’t seem to have changed the administration’s position. However, a spokesperson for Yale says via email that it would respect the traditional secret ballot process, overseen by the National Labor Relations Board, and “officially branding GESO as Local 33 is not perceived at Yale as anything new or different, and it has no effect on the status of graduate students.”
As a legal matter, GESO’s institutional power and legal status remains tenuous without any official recognition of the union from the university. Under the precedent of “Brown II,” the NLRB has suppressed graduate labor organizing with a blanket denial of collective bargaining rights at private higher education institutions. The 2004 ruling thus left union recognition at the employer’s discretion, handing the mega-corporations that run Yale and other campuses wide latitude to ignore the growing clamor for union representation among graduate assistants and researchers.
But soon Yale (where the author was once an undergraduate) may have no choice but to come to the bargaining table with Local 33, because, as we reported last year, the graduate worker unions at Columbia University and the New School have taken their demand for a union to the NLRB in Washington to secure their union rights and overturn Brown. They’re backed by many labor unions and other graduate workers—including those at public universities, where unionization is governed under separate state labor laws, and the new UAW graduate workers union at New York University.