“History Will Judge Yale Harshly”

Markeshia Ricks PhotoFormer federal prosecutor Chris Mattei, who’s exploring a run for the 2018 Democratic gubernatorial nomination, submitted the following opinion piece:

While news headlines focus on the pitched struggle to resolve our fiscal crisis in Hartford, there is another important clash over the character of Connecticut taking place along the shoreline, at Yale University in New Haven.

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting with hunger-striking graduate teachers who are members of Local 33, UNITE HERE. Yale has refused to negotiate a first contract with the teachers even though they held a free, fair election and voted to form a union.

Critics, most prominent among them Yale administrators, have attempted to portray the graduate teachers as selfish individuals on the path to prestigious academic careers, benefiting from tuition waivers and stipends beyond the compensation they receive for teaching as apprentices. These critics attack the graduate teachers for invoking a false equivalence with other unionized Yale employees to promote their narrow self-interest.

The truth is exactly the opposite.

Every one of the graduate teachers with whom I spoke loved the teaching that they do, and valued how it enriched their own scholarship and that of their students. Every one of them also worried not only for themselves, but for their peers, about unpredictable and expanding teaching loads, the racial and gender inequities in teaching assignments and in pay, and the inadequacy of family health care, mental health care, and child care benefits that are so important for the security of all working families.

These graduate teachers and their forebears have rejected the stance encouraged by Yale and other elite academic institutions that their highly specialized intellectual labor is not really “work,” and that they should seek advancement by standing separate and apart from the other workers – groundskeepers and maintenance workers, clerical and technical workers – whose labor, like their own, keeps Yale running every day.

Instead, at the core of their identity, the graduate teachers have united themselves with the broader, historic movement of Yale workers to win decency and dignity for all of the university’s employees, and to use their power to make Yale, as New Haven’s largest and wealthiest employer, into a greater source of opportunity for the city and the region.

In fact, the solidarity of several generations of graduate teachers with the struggles of Yale’s other unionized employees played a critical role in securing those workers’ good wages and benefits, and breaking a long cycle of labor unrest including multiple strikes.

It is in this context, and in the context of Yale’s long refusal to recognize the graduate teachers union while supposedly awaiting – and in truth actively delaying – the federal government’s decision regarding these workers’ legal right to organize, that we should evaluate the university’s refusal to bargain now that Local 33 has been legally certified.

At this critical moment, when workers’ basic rights and protections face potentially devastating attacks from Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans, Yale is pursuing additional delays in the hopes that Trump appointees to the National Labor Relations Board will overturn the decision allowing the graduate teachers to organize.

This is an act of profound cynicism for which history will judge Yale harshly.

Now more than ever, when the norms and institutions of our democracy are threatened, we need the kind of unity that has been demonstrated by Yale’s graduate teachers, and reciprocated by their co-workers and the New Haven community, to provide us “a model for democratic culture,” as Yale Professor of History Jennifer Klein has called it.

These graduate teachers are part of a new democratic vitality rising in our state and Country. They are sacrificing their time, jeopardizing their education and professional opportunities, and taking on one of the most powerful institutions in the state so that people who come after them will be treated with fairness and dignity.  In this sense, their struggle should be familiar to all of us who were raised to embrace that most basic American devotion – a willingness to sacrifice one’s own immediate interests in order to build a more just and equitable future for others.

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 12, 2017  4:34pm

White collar workers have been slow to realize they need union representation too.
Let’s hope this is the beginning of more unionizing in the professions.

posted by: Yoyo on May 12, 2017  5:34pm

A free and fair election??? Get real. They cynically held micro-elections designed to disqualify dissenters… and they still didn’t win them all. They are the worst of Trumpian power politics.  Yale graduate students have overwhelmigky rejected UNITE HERE representation.
Watching politicians line up to kiss the machine’s ring is truly nauseating. So called local 33 is the antithesis of democratic.

posted by: robn on May 12, 2017  6:57pm

CTs biggest problem is unfounded pension obligations and this union stooge may be a candidate for governor?  I know who I’m voting against

posted by: hrsn on May 12, 2017  7:09pm

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s so typical for Dem politicians to line up unthinkingly with Labor. There are significant problems with the student strategy, ones that will throttle Yale’s attractiveness to both students and teacher. Another case of driving people out of the state.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 13, 2017  1:15am

C’mon Everyone —- Hop on this Bandwagon. 
I’m gonna drive this stupid story.  My Name is Chris.

posted by: Rich Pizzo on May 13, 2017  5:40am

Conservatives vs “Liberals”
Republicans vs Democrats
Elitists vs Riff Raff
White Collar vs Blue Collar
Exploiters vs Exploited
Plantation Owners vs Slaves
Fight Dirty vs Fight Clean

Basically, it all resolves down to this

anti-socials vs socials

I use the word anti-socials in the psycho/social pathological sense.

anti-socials are those who regularly use unconscionable tactics to accomplish unconscionable agenda and think nothing of hurting other people in the process…

P.S. I am very happy to see all the Confederate War Hero Monuments coming down all over America’s South….. It started here by these very same Yale students, Students with a fully functioning Social Conscience changing the world for the better.

posted by: BevHills730 on May 13, 2017  8:36am

Havard’s president says that the proposed bargaining there encompasses too many departments. Yale’s president says the bargaining unit is too narrow.

Both schools have worked to disenfranchise graduate teachers ever since they started organizing for unions. Both also believe the only “democratic” election is the one that each school can win with certainty.

posted by: Capital Magpie on May 13, 2017  10:56am

You spoke to the graduate students at the protest, which is an excellent way to hear their perspective. But then you use this to provide the perspective for the entire graduate student body, which is extremely deceitful. Why exactly do you assume that Local 33 has overwhelming (or even majority) support among the graduate student body?

1. The last time the entire student body voted on unionization (in the early 2000s), they voted to reject GESO.

2. In the fall, the Grad Student Assembly (which is democratically elected by each department), voted both against Local 33 and against the microbargaining approach.

3. Above all, if Local 33 believed they had overwhelming graduate student support, why not just hold an election for the entire student body? The microbargaining approach cost them months in a legal struggle, with little upside (as they will be represented by the same union in the end…). Tho 10 departments chosen (of which 8 eventually voted to unionize) were not meant to be a representative sample. This is not some conspiracy theory. You can go to their info sessions, and ask “Why these departments”, and they will reasonably say “These were the departments that already had the greatest interest in unionization”. This isn’t really a point of dispute.

I don’t know exactly what proportion of students support GESO. No one does. But it’s incredibly frustrating to see every “news article” paint the narrative with the same broad brush: graduate students versus administration. Having spoken to the members of my department about the issue, I can say that they are overwhelmingly against unionization, while of course some other departments are in favor of it. But it’s absolutely dishonest for each article to not even mention the fact that the union is a very contentious issue among graduate students. When evaluating the ethics of Yale’s legal appeal, it is essential to mention that many PhD students are very glad that Yale is protesting the legal ruling.

posted by: LookOut on May 13, 2017  11:09am

Add me to the list of those who will campaign and vote against this guy.  Truly dangerous for our city and state. 

Hey NHI - how about some balance in your reporting?  This is the 3rd or 4th pro-union piece you have published.  Are we to believe there is no one in the region who supports the other side?

posted by: Noteworthy on May 13, 2017  8:20pm

Sucking up to the manipulative and bullying unions and putting a corrupt governor in jail are not qualifications for governor - they’re disqualifying. As for history judging Yale - cliches don’t cut it either. History won’t even take note of this micro-scrabble.