Years into a revived organizing drive, Yale graduate-student teachers vowed to persist amid what they called an “intimidation” campaign.
The charge came as hundreds of students, union organizers and political officials jammed Beinecke Plaza Thursday afternoon to demand once again that the university administration recognize the Graduate Employees & Students Organization (GESO-UNITE HERE).
GESO Chair Aaron Greenberg (pictured), who also is a Ph.D. candidate in Yale’s political science department and a member of the Board of Alders, reminded attendees that the rally was hardly the first time the demand to unionize has been made. (Read about the previous three major GESO marches over the past 18 months, when a previously stalled campaign revved up again, here, here and here.)
“And that is not an abstract demand,” Greenberg said. “Those of you who have been around for the last few days might have noticed some posters up around campus. On Monday, the Yale University administration put up posters reminding us how much we make. Thanks for the reminder Yale, but we look at our paychecks pretty regularly. Maybe they are hoping to intimidate us. They will not intimidate us. The Yale administration, you might have noticed, put up more posters today, and so did we. Our posters already have over 6,000 views on Facebook. We are fighting back. But the Yale administration needs to knock it off. Their high-gloss, anti-union campaign is not right. It’s wrong.”
“The leadership of the Graduate School is very supportive of every doctoral student in every discipline, whatever the student’s views are about unionization,” responded Yale spokesman Tom Conroy. He called the students’ stipends—generally in the $29,000 to $33,700 range—competitive, along with health benefits. He referred the Independent to this link spelling out Yale’s position which includes this point: “The Graduate School also pays for comprehensive health care for all students and their families. We know of no other peer school that does this. If the student has a spouse, but no dependent children, Yale pays half the cost of the spouse’s health insurance. For families with children, the Graduate School covers the entire cost of the premiums. A parental support and relief policy provides students with an additional full semester of stipend and healthcare support at the birth or adoption of children.”
GESO has stepped up its efforts to unionize in light of successes at both New York University and the University of Connecticut. During Thursday’s rally members marched a petition featuring the photos of more than two-thirds of the graduate employees at Yale who say they want an intimidation-free union election.
They are students like Michelle Morgan (pictured), a seventh-year in American Studies who has taught her own course and was previously compensated what she deemed “adequately” for that work. Morgan said she is trying to finish her degree and support her teen son on 40 percent less income than last year.
“Last year, without warning, the Yale administration announced a 40 percent pay cut to upper year teaching pay,” she said. “Why is my value as a teacher now worth 40 percent less, even though I have more experience? This year, I am again teaching my own class. This year, I am making 40 percent less than I did last year, for the same job.”
She said this year she also is being charged a $540 continuing registration fee, even though she is teaching her own class.
“This year, I am paying Yale to teach its undergrads,” she said. “Why are we paying Yale to teach? I need a union so back-room decisions about pay don’t destroy my ability to work and raise my son at the same time. I need a union because my struggle as a worker is connected to the struggle so many other workers in New Haven face at the foot of Yale’s gates.”
Hearing the plight of Yale School of Management student Grant Mao caused the crowd to chant: “Shame on Yale! Shame on Yale! Shame on Yale!”
Mao, a student from Shanghai, struggled with depression. He said Yale offered no help. In fact, he was ultimately expelled from school.
“They told me that my dismissal was effective immediately, that my health insurance would stop, and that I had 15 days to pack my bags and leave the country,” he said, near tears and voice breaking. “I got an email saying I was barred from the School of Management building. I’m fighting not just to be reinstated so I can finish my degree. I am fighting so that what happened to me does not go on happening to others who also suffer mental illness. I shouldn’t have to fight for Yale to respect me. But I will keep fighting until they do.”
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy addressed the rally. He said that the very idea of America is tied to “the fight between the right of those who are governed and those who are employed and what is happening is that those who employ are getting bigger and bigger, and more powerful and more powerful, which means that those who are employed need to get bigger and bigger and more powerful and more powerful.
“There is no coincidence between the fact that the middle class is sliding into non-existence at the same time that the number of people who have access to unions is getting further and further away,” Murphy said. “The more labor unions we have the better off the middle class is in this country.”
He said what graduate teachers and researchers are asking the university for “is small, it is reasonable and it should be expected to be granted by this institution which is part of the fabric of this city and this community.”
Bob Proto, president of UNITE HERE Local 35, said that if the university insists on trying to stop GESO from voting to unionize that both Local 35 and Local 34 will take that as a personal affront against all unions.
“We stand here today 5,000 strong ready to support our brothers and sisters that do the teaching and the research and carry the mission on for Yale,” he said. “For many years we have been giving Yale a message. So hear this [University President] Peter Salovey, hear this Yale Trustees, if you have a coordinated campaign, if you intimidate your graduate teachers and your researchers, we as union brothers and sisters in 34 and 35 are going to consider that a line in the sand with us.”
“The way our members and our leadership is going to digest this is as an attack on unions. They only want a fair vote that’s neutral without intimidation. We’re not asking Yale to just lay down,” Proto said. “For Yale to take a step and have a coordinated anti-union campaign when we have the largest unionized campus of any private university in the country—we’re not going to stand by and allow them to do that to the teachers and researchers who are our close allies.
“Our members are happy that we were able to forge a peaceful, problem solving way of settling our contracts and we would view an attack on the graduate teachers and researchers as Yale going back to the old ways,” he said.