Yale Grad Employees Score a Win, but Union Push Not Over

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Graduate student workers at Yale University still do not have union recognition from their employer, but one of the many concerns that they might have hoped to address through collective bargaining has been alleviated-well, to some extent.

Six weeks after a massive march of graduate students and representatives from local unions delivered their second petition-this time with 2,000 signatures-to the offices of the Yale University College of Arts and Sciences, PhD students in the humanities and social sciences received word that they would be receiving a long-sought guarantee of sixth year research funding through their teaching position. Science and engineering doctoral candidates, however, will not be promised a sixth year.

The announcement was made through an email that went out to the doctoral students in departments affected by the change, according to Aaron Greenberg, a PhD candidate and New Haven Alder.

“Our employment has only ever been guaranteed for five years,” Greenberg said. “We’ve been asking for the university to fund us in ways that are more realistic to how long it takes to do research in subjects like history, anthropology, and political science. We’re really excited. It’s going to change a lot of people’s lives on campus.”

There’s the work Visa status for international students, for example.

“There are real concerns as to how your Visa is going to be renewed if you don’t have sixth year funding,” Greenberg said.

PhD candidates receive a yearly stipend to fill teaching positions or fulfill other duties, and the sixth year will be no different, according to the email sent out by Lynn Cooley, Dean of the Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

“A lot of graduate employees were vulnerable-needing to take lower-paying positions or having to dip into their savings to finish their research,” Greenberg said of the former five-year funding guarantee.

In the email, Cooley credited a working group of faculty and administrators that was established to address the issue. She pointed to factors such as a job market in which employers favor graduates with additional teaching experience as another reason the University chose to go in this direction.

“Our students have often found teaching fellow positions in their sixth year of study, but uncertainty about placement has caused anxiety and delay, and, in some cases, no opportunities were forthcoming,” Cooley wrote in the email. “The sixth year of guaranteed funding will enable eligible students to develop teaching portfolios of more depth and to plan ahead for their sixth year with more certainty.”

While Greenberg is happy with the change, he admits that he would have liked to see it extend to students in other departments, such as the sciences.

“We still have work to do,” he said. “There are hundreds of scientists who said they want the same thing the social sciences want.”

Science and engineering students are funded “according to their programmatic financial aid packages”, which typically cover them for as long as it takes to complete their degree anyway, according to Cooley’s email.

Meanwhile, there’s still the campaign for a university-recognized union.

“The university’s longstanding position regarding graduate student unionization is that it would not be in the best interest of the students or the university,” said Yale spokesperson Thomas Conroy in an emailed statement.

But Greenberg remains optimistic that he and his fellow graduate employees can get Yale administrators to the table.

“I cannot be underestimated how important it is that a response to two major actions was to make a change to the structure of our pay,” he said. “I think the wind is at our backs. We’ve made it clear-twice. We are looking forward to that day.”



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