Push for Yale Union Back Twofold, University Won’t Budge

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It didn’t work the last time, so they tried it again-with about double the amount of people as they had when they first took to the steps of the Yale University College of Arts and Sciences on a rainy afternoon in April.

“We left their steps and we said ‘we’ll be back’,” said Aaron Greenberg, a city Alder and Yale PhD. student. “Here we are.”

And they’ll probably be back again and again, until Yale University sits down to negotiate a union contract for its arts and sciences graduate students, who often double as teachers and researchers.

“We were disappointed to come back in the fall and find that they did not want to have that conversation with us,” Greenberg said.

The banner stretched throughout most of the portion between the corner of College and Elm Street-where the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, (GESO) were joined by local unions for Tuesday’s massive rally-and Wall Street. Around 2,000 photos-faces of GESO’s petitioners, which numbered around 1,000 in April-adorned it. And the names, provided in a re-drafted petition that filled several thick books, were delivered personally to the office of Yale College of Arts and Sciences by a crowd that reflected the number of people on it.

“We hope and expect that they’ll sit down with us now,” Greenberg said. “I think they have a compelling reason to follow the example of NYU and UCONN.”

That is, at least, what Yale’s unofficial chapter of GESO is trying to do. When Lilly Defriend and her fellow NYU graduate student workers wanted to unionize, they did not have Federal laws mandating that their university oblige to protect them because they attend a private institution. A 2004 National Labor Relations Board verdict against Brown University voided a 2001 case that had won them collective bargaining rights, which meant that GESO’s NYU chapter would lose the contract it had negotiated in 2002 with its 2005 expiration.

In 2010 they were prepared to petition for a reversal of the National Labor Relations Board’s position, but withdrew the bid in exchange for NYU agreeing to recognize the results of an election, in which 98.4 percent voted to reestablish the union.

“We’re in the process of negotiating our contract [with NYU] right now,” Defriend said through a microphone to the crowd that closed the portion of College Street between Elm and Prospect. “We did it in exactly the same way that you’re doing it. If NYU can come to the table, Yale can come to the table.”

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And if they do, the demands differ depending on which of the graduate school petitioners you ask. There are the obvious things like wages and health benefits, but some have other concerns.

Evan Pease is in his fourth year of studying particle physics-or as he says, “dark matter”. Most of the money Yale administers for his research comes to them through grants, he said.

“When those grants run out I need the protection of a contract,” Pease said. “People can be left hanging. I want the stability and peace of mind.”

Yale University spokesperson Thomas Conroy could not quantify how much of the research funding is covered by grants, but he said in an email that “the doctoral students’ financial aid package includes five years of funding and free health care”.

“The support includes a full fellowship covering the $37,600 annual tuition and provides minimum annual stipends ranging from $28,400 to $33,000,” Conroy wrote.

And the $28,400 minimum tops a trend of stipend increases that has marked the period from 2000-when it was at $11,500-to where it is at now, according to the University.

“The Graduate School provides a wide array of academic support services and works directly with the Graduate Student Assembly, an elected body of graduate students representing all departments, to improve graduate students’ academic, social, and living experiences at Yale,” Conroy said. “Yale does not recognize GESO.”

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But a lot of other people do. The rally was attended by a handful of public officials that included Mayor Toni Harp, Governor Dan Malloy, and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.

“Whether you’re a factory worker or a graduate student, you have the right to organize,” DeLauro said into a microphone to thunderous applause. “You have the right to organize for your wages, working conditions, and retirement. These are the battles enshrined in our nation’s history.”




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