Inspired By NYU, GESO Reemerges In Force

Paul Bass PhotoFrom the governor on down, top Connecticut Democrats joined well over 1,000 New Haveners in taking over a block of College Street Tuesday night to jump-start a revival of the quest to unionize Yale’s graduate-student teachers.

A boisterous crowd estimated at 2,000 filled the street to endorse a call on Yale to negotiate with the Graduate Employees And Students Organization (GESO), which claims to represent more than 1,000 masters and PhD students in the arts and sciences who earn money teaching undergraduate courses or working in research labs. The crowd watched as supporters unveiled a block-long banner ...

... festooned with the photos of 2,000 students, workers, and politicians supporting the unionization call. Yale’s graduate students have been trying to form a union through GESO for more than 20 years. Two recent victories by similar union-organizing drives, at New York University and the University of Connecticut, recharged the organizing drive at Yale (beginning with this event in May). An earlier wave of GESO organizing in the 1990s and early 2000s failed to achieve union recognition, but did see improved pay and benefits for graduate-student teachers. (Yale denied a connection between the organizing drive and the changes.)

Addressing the College Street crowd Tuesday night from atop a Teamsters Union flatbed truck, speakers included U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (at left), State Treasurer Denise Nappier (center), State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney (at right), and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo (concealed behind Looney).

In declining to bargain with GESO, the Yale administration has argued—and continues to argue—that, as spokesman Tom Conroy put it Tuesday, “Yale considers the graduate students to be primarily students, not employees.” DeLauro offered her take on that argument in thundering remarks to the crowd Tuesday night: “Whether you are a factory worker or a graduate student, you have a right to organize ... and to bargain and have a say in your wages and your salary and your working conditions.”

“GESO—you are workers. The work you do is important,” Tyisha Walker told the crowd. Walker (pictured after delivering her remarks) is secretary treasurer of UNITE HERE Local 35, which represents Yale’s blue-collar workers; and a West River alder. She responded to the second, less-spoken case opponents have made against GESO in its earlier incarnation: That Yale’s blue-collar and pink-collar unionized workers will show up at rallies for the graduate students in order to earn their return support in contract battles with the university, but they’ll never risk their own jobs and go out on strike for GESO. “We stand with you,” Walker declared.

The crowd also heard from a veteran of NYU’s graduate-student organizing drive, Lily DeFriend, who studies anthropology. Before her speech she said that the drive at NYU succeeded after gaining the support of faculty members and repeated demonstrations of overwhelming support of the bargaining unit. (DeFriend is on the bargaining committee of the NYU union, GSOC/UAW.)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was the star attraction at Tuesday’s rally, because he’s currently in the midst of the Connecticut’s closest high-stakes race, with organized labor working hard to reelect him. Democrat Malloy desperately needs the support of both New Haven in general and Yale’s unions in particular to win Nov. 4’s too-close-to-call rematch with Republican Tom Foley. Yale union vote-pullers were crucial to delivering the city’s 18,606-plus victory margin for Malloy in the 2010 election, an election he won statewide by only 6,404 votes.

Malloy rattled off his labor credentials for the crowd: “another 20,000 people” represented by unions statewide since he took office; the passage of the country’s first $10.10-per-hour minimum wage; passage of the country’s first paid sick leave law; passage of a state earned income tax credit. (Click on the video to watch speech highlights.) “The next thing on our agenda is you,” Malloy called out. “Let’s get the job done. God bless you. And by the way, don’t forget to vote.”

After the speeches, the crowd marched en masse down Wall Street ...

... to the steps of Yale’s administration building, Woodbridge Hall, where Wooster Square Alder and GESO Chair Aaron Greenberg (a political science grad student) and fellow GESO organizers brought binders filled with copies of all those 2,000 photos of supporters ...

... which they delivered to Yale Director of Administrative Affairs Pilar Montalvo, who works in the president’s office.

What’s At Stake

In a pre-rally interview earlier Tuesday in Yale’s Rosenkrantz Hall, GESO-affiliated graduate student-teachers described the concerns they’d press with the university through union recognition. The concerns had to do with both the teachers’ work conditions as well as the quality of education for the Yale undergraduates whom they teach. Political science doctoral student Charles Decker spoke of pushing the university to hire more professors of color.  “There aren’t a lot of people who look like me” on the faculty, he said. “Yale is a leader in higher education. If I could negotiate with them to make a strong commitment to diversity, that would make a Yale education that much” better.

Robin Canavan (at far left in photo), meanwhile, spoke of the need for “more women faculty to look up to as role models” in the sciences. She does lab and field work in geology and geophysics.

Evan Pease, a physicist, spoke of how lab researchers like himself (he’s “pursuing a new particle” through studying dark-matter detection) rely on federal-government grants, which are dwindling. Through GESO he’d look to negotiate job protection when grants run out.

Allison Hadley, who teachers elementary Italian to undergrads, noted that Yale is building two new residential colleges that will house another 800 or so students on campus. Will the university hire enough grad students to teach them, or will classes get bigger? She’d like to see grad students represented through a union when that question gets answered.

Abbey Agresta (pictured) spoke of learning as she showed up to deliver the second lecture in one course that she’d been suddenly transferred to teach a different course instead. “I deserve a voice in that decision-making,” she said.

University spokesman Conroy said graduate-student teachers’ views are already part of the decision-making process at Yale, through the Graduate Student Assembly. In an email message, he also listed the arrangements and benefits for graduate-student teachers: “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. The faculty of the Graduate School believe that training in pedagogy is integral to the professional development of graduate students. Most students, therefore, assist in teaching one course per term, normally between 2 to 4 terms during the first five years of study.” Conroy stated that Yale is committed to the best possible academic outcomes for our students.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 21, 2014  9:54pm

It’s apparent the unions are not acting in the best interest of the members,When they have these Charlatan politicians speaking.Wake up.They are there only for votes!!! Both Democratic and Republican politicians have a nice scam going.This is why we need to get behind a third party.You see Both parties are doing what the money wants them to do and not listening to what voters are telling them.

The Republican and Democratic parties are alike capitalist parties — differing only in being committed to different sets of capitalist interests — they have the same principles under varying colors, are equally corrupt and are one in their subservience to capital and their hostility to labor.

Eugene V. Debs

posted by: wendy1 on October 21, 2014  10:14pm

Yale is committed to protecting its endowment and not much else.  Yale does not like unions or cooperating with others.  Yale is not interested in the welfare of its teachers or students or in their opinions despite what their PR spouts.  Their job-frightened house slaves can rationalize, defend, and BS until the cows come home.  You might as well be dealing with Wal-Mart or Target or Home Depot.

I support GESO and joined demonstrations for all the unions.  I remember when 100 women got arrested on College and Elm Sts.  But local unions are weak like our politicians.  They should have raised a fuss right after Yale announced their 5-year layoff plan last spring.  They should all strike now for the improvements they want.  And they were wrong to turn away people like Tom Gaudioso who is such a strong union champion.

posted by: HewNaven on October 22, 2014  7:18am

“Whether you are a factory worker or a graduate student, you have a right to organize ... and to bargain and have a say in your wages and your salary and your working conditions.”

This is the best argument I’ve heard. Don’t try to compare their work to what the rest of us do for a living. The bottom line is that EVERYONE should have the right to negotiate their job, beyond short-term temporary laborers. If its regular, everyday work we are talking about, then why should any boss be afraid to have a discussion?... Unless they’re trying to take advantage of their workers, of course.

posted by: robn on October 22, 2014  7:28am

Ok I loath the political demagoguery on display here but ill get right to an honest question. Why is it bad to receive payment of $40K tuition, free medical (prob a $10K value in CT) and $30K cash in exchange for what looks to be very brief part time work?

posted by: robn on October 22, 2014  8:37am

WOOSTERBILL somewhat answered my question in the last thread on this subject.

posted by: LoveNH on October 22, 2014  8:56am

Delaura states,“Whether you are a factory worker or a graduate student, you have a right to organize ...”
Agreed. The problem for GESO is that any time they have a legitimate ballot initiative for graduate students to decide whether to organize under GESO, the answer is “No”.  See the Yale Daily News article linked below which recounts GESO’s shameful attempts at getting around the fundamental democratic history that they DO NOT represent the students they claim to represent.  GESO is part of the anti-democratic extreme left,  sharing more in common with the Chinese Communist Party than the Democratic party.
Shame on you, Rosa.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on October 22, 2014  9:11am

All these Yale graduate students would have to register their cars in Connecticut and start paying New Haven property taxes before they gain my full sympathies. (Too many of them use the excuse that “they’re just students”.)

posted by: Pedro Soto on October 22, 2014  9:15am

In the past I have been opposed to GESO and the concept of union organization of grad students, and while overall I’m not a huge fan of their tactics (at least as told to me via my many Yale grad school friends over the years), I have since come full-circle and now support grad student unionization.

For student athletics, I have long thought that athletes should be paid, particularly at Division I schools. I thought it shameful that generally a state’s highest paid employee is a coach, but the people who actually bring in those billions of dollars to the school get nothing.

I finally realized that this is a very similar case with modern-day graduate students.

My reasoning is simple- there is no longer a job waiting for you at the end of most academic grad school paths. In fact, getting a full tenure track position is about as easy as someone getting a spot on a major league sports team.

Given this fact, it is imperative that academia shift to reflect this reality- students are no longer going to end up in an academic career, or will end
up in a lifetime of adjunct and temporary positions. Graduate students need to be treated as employees first, academics second.

posted by: RhyminTyman on October 22, 2014  9:45am

The GESO needs to remember they are students first. They are students with an opportunity to get an amazing education, that others would die for. If they forget this then all is lost. These jobs are to off set the cost of an education. They could be bar tending instead. To complain that you are being forced to TA a different subject different than the one they expected is comical at best.

posted by: Eddie on October 22, 2014  10:09am

Thank you Westville Citizen for posting an opinion column written 9 years ago by an undergraduate to characterize current calls for union recognition.  It is amazing that GESO was able to get so many graduate workers to not only sign petitions but take their picture and post it given your allegations that GESO doesn’t represent them. 

However, the article you posted is instructive, insofar as it tells us who promotes anti-union efforts.  The author of the article you posted went on to work for Mitch McConnell.  This ardent advocate of democracy later became Donald Rumsfeld’s chief of staff.  Now he is the president of a group that represents the interests of organizations like the Heritage Foundation in DC.  Interesting that you choose to promote this author’s opinion column, while dabbling of far right rhetoric of your own.

posted by: LoveNH on October 22, 2014  10:35am

IMHO, the important thing lacking in Eddie’s thoughtful post is any question regarding the historical facts as described in the following article:

I stand by my stated advocacy for students’ right to oganize and for my objections to anti-democratic methods. I wish GESO and politicians pandering to the radical left would do the same.

posted by: Esbey on October 22, 2014  10:38am

Did folks catch the “raw deal” that the Yale PhD grad students get?  Free tuition plus a $28,000 stipend, plus family health benefits, for each of 5 years.  In return, the work requirement is that they teach up to 1/2 time for up to 2 years (sometimes less.)

So, over 5 years they collect $140,000, 5 years of health insurance and a free Yale education in return for the equivalent of ONE YEAR of full time teaching.

What exactly is the union going to demand in response to this level of undeniable oppression?

posted by: robn on October 22, 2014  10:44am


A decade ago (and still today as you can gather from the the last comment board on this subject), the anti-GESO sentiment seems to go beyond conservative political operatives. Here’s a contemporary article written by a Yale molecular bio grad student.

posted by: McKitt on October 22, 2014  10:55am

What this article does not mention, is that it is far from clear that most graduate students want to unionize. There are over 2800 graduate students in GSAS (does not include professional students) and GESO has managed to garner the support of around 1000. This is far from representing all of graduate students and, as I can attest, many students are quite satisfied with the means we already have for resolving disputes with the administration. I am not confident that a union structure would be in the best interest of students who rely on having a good mentoring relationship with their advisor and are already being paid better than any other graduate students in the country. It is not clear at all that we, as graduate students, would benefit from the union systems that work quite well for other employers and employees.

Now, there are some larger gripes with academia that GESO is quite right to point out (racial/gender disparities, the funding of academic research is much more uncertain than in times past, training too many graduate students for the available academic positions), but these are not issues that can be addressed by Yale or will be helped by unionizing.

posted by: Eddie on October 22, 2014  11:17am


The article you linked was written over 11 years ago.  I agree that people may decide against unionization for any reason they want.  But this doesn’t negate the fact that surprisingly large numbers of students have consistently called for recognition.  The most relevant comparison at this point is probably NYU, where I think over 90% of the students voted in favor of unionization.     

To be clear, Yale has never agreed to a process sanctioned by the National Labor Relations Board that would allow graduate workers to decide the question for themselves.  So it seems that the concern over democracy voiced by Westville Citizen is disingenuous. 

If Westville Citizen cares about democracy where is the outrage over the fact that Yale has never allowed graduate workers to settle this question for themselves with the protections afforded to any other workers who are deciding to Unionize?  Why shouldn’t these graduate workers, who are an entirely different group from those of 11 years ago, be allowed to decide what is in their best interests?  Why should the opinion of a former Rumsfeld chief of staff count more than the many current graduate workers who have signed petitions in favor of GESO?

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on October 22, 2014  11:18am

It would help to have a bigger conversation about the trends in higher education, including massive casualization of the academic labor force, the deactivation of “non-profitable” humanities programs, exponential increases in administrative bloat, skyrocketing tuition, a looming education debt crisis, exponentially increasing tax-exempt university endowments, among other issues. The issue of graduate student unionization, particularly at an institution like Yale, is very much tied up in every single one of these problems.

At its most basic, many graduate students (such as myself) seek unionization not because we believe we get a “raw deal” (as Esbey says), but because we seek to have a contractual relationship in which we have a seat at the table with our employer. It is significant that many of the good conditions we have here at Yale (including stipend and health care) are a direct result of the NYU grad-employee contract from 2000. They do not come simply from the voluntary benevolence of Yale. Regardless, a union is about shared power and contractual obligations—no one argues that NBA players have a “raw deal” in terms of the money they make, but we can support their union because we understand systems of power and believe that workers have a right to a voice over their own working conditions.

As for Threefifths & robn’s take on the politicians present, I was proud to see so many prominent elected officials voice their support of GESO. It is not because I harbor any delusions about their own self-interest, but because their presence puts more pressure on the Yale administration to sit down and negotiate a contract with our union. It is absurd to believe that politicians are going to all do the right thing simply from some enlightened consciousness. Organize and push them to represent you on the right issues. It’s far from a perfect system, but it is a powerful way to fight against the money and corruption that dominates (including Yale-Davos).

posted by: robn on October 22, 2014  11:53am


I simply pointed out, contrary to your assertion, that the anti-GESO opinions ten years ago weren’t limited to right-leaning poli-sci students.

As for today, there seems to be ample evidence that GSA represents a majority of graduates, not simply as an observer but as a negotiator with the university, and that GESO does not. Therefore, my issue with this rally is that it…
a) manufactures consent that doesn’t really exist.
b) is being used as a propaganda tool by public and trade unions to bulk up their dwindling ranks.
c) is being exploited by political opportunists (or interpreted in a more pessimistic manner, taxpayers are being exploited by public and private sector unions which comprise 14% of the workforce but hold the legislature captive because their voting block trumps overall voter apathy.)

posted by: Wooster Squared on October 22, 2014  12:02pm

I have to agree with AverageTaxpayer on this one. These folks seem to claim their students when it suits their needs (like when property taxes are due) and workers when it benefits them.

The last thing this town needs is more unions and their bullying tactics that seem to come out every election. Sorry GESO, but locals 34/35 have shown that unions in this town serve themselves at the expense of everyone else.

posted by: Eddie on October 22, 2014  12:25pm


With all due respect, I’m not overly concerned with there being sufficient evidence for you to conclude that graduate workers don’t want a union.  For that matter, I’m not overly concerned with my opinion that graduate workers want and deserve a union.  Instead I would much prefer that graduate workers decide this question for themselves with the protections of the NLRB.  I do contend that those who want to deny graduate workers the right to decide this question with the protections of the NLRB are not advocates of democracy.

posted by: robn on October 22, 2014  1:13pm


If you’re not overly concerned with facts, don’t post comments to the contrary. Your numbers point clearly to the fact that a vote is a waste of time because (assuming everyone motivated to vote yes would show up at a major rally) GESO doesn’t represent a majority or grad students. In the absence of a winning majority, that reduces this event to union theater.

posted by: Eddie on October 22, 2014  2:32pm

Ok Robn.  There shouldn’t be a process that allows graduate workers decide this decision with NLRB protections because you have already guessed the outcome for them and determined it would be a waste of time.

posted by: robn on October 22, 2014  2:57pm


I see the majority of grads NOT participating in your political theater as a pretty clear decision.

posted by: Eddie on October 22, 2014  3:51pm

I know that is what you see.  And since you have come to this conclusion, graduate workers should be denied the right to an NRLB process where they decide this question for themselves.  They should be denied this right because you have determined it would only waste their time. 

Perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad idea to also allow you to decide the outcomes of all sorts of political elections and union recognition processes.  Imagine the time, money, and effort that could be saved, if you were allowed to infer and then decide these outcomes.

Thanks for helping me see how denying rights to graduate workers can be firmly rooted in democratic inclinations.

posted by: robn on October 23, 2014  8:57am


The convergence of elite political power with a small group of people aggressively advancing their own narrow economic interests is not democracy; its fascism.

posted by: Philippe Egalité on October 23, 2014  12:06pm

I can’t help but suspect that you, Robn, don’t hold the small cadre of elites who have co-opted and taken control of our political process at the national level to the same standard that you do GESO or other union organizations. Robn, by your definition, those corporate actors, their wealthy owner/shareholders, and their political puppets are fascists.

Of course, missing from your assessment of GESO is that it is *not* by any means a group looking out only for its own economic interests. That’s why there were three other unions, SUN (the Yale undergraduate organization), and New Haven Rising there as well. Contrary to several of the comments here, many of the graduate students at Yale are registered to vote in Connecticut, pay property taxes in New Haven, and are proud and committed citizens of this city and this state. GESO isn’t only committed to its own narrow interests—it is also committed to jobs for New Haven residents, to electing officials who represent broad segments of Connecticut and not just the upper- and upper-middle classes, and to progressive values generally. In the past several years, GESO and its membership have worked hard in a variety of capacities in the city of New Haven on behalf of a broader agenda that belies your statements concerning ‘narrow economic interest’.

Speaking frankly, a great many of these students would be closing ranks with the Goldman Sachs and William F. Buckley crowd if they were only interested in their ‘narrow economic interests’. It’s not about that, but it seems clear enough that you don’t want to see it.

posted by: robn on October 23, 2014  12:56pm


Your suspicions are incorrect. To refute your claim that GESO and other labor organizations have the greater good in mind, I’ll point out that CT labor unions have had a complete stranglehold on CT governance for some time now (the governors seat, legislature majority, and now even New Haven’s BOA and mayor seat). They’ve circled the wagons around their own job protection and compensation and have failed to bring about significant change for the majority of CT residents (who still have the highest property tax burdens ion the nation.)

posted by: asdfghjkl; on October 23, 2014  4:18pm

It’s not as though Yale was the only option for these students. They are very privileged people with tons of options and they chose this one. On that front, they really don’t have much of a moral argument.

As a Yale student, and just a citizen in general, I’d rather the university decide decide how to allocate the university’s resources. I don’t see any reason why I should want grad students to get more than the market rate (in terms of money, conditions, influence, etc), but it’s obviously why I should want the university to try to keep costs down and be able to invest in the ways it believes are best.

posted by: Philippe Egalité on October 23, 2014  4:52pm

In essence, ‘asdfghjkl;’ you are suggesting that people should not advocate collectively to better their situation or that of others. That if they have other options, they should take those rather than choose one that matters to them and then work to make it better. You are suggesting that people of privilege ought not to make the world a better place for themselves or others—but rather that they follow the logic of the all-knowing ‘market.’ Unfortunately, there is no ‘market’. There are merely people—including fictional people (ie. corporations)—who make a variety of decisions that interact in complex ways. To refer to this as the ‘market’ is to improperly reify an unreal concept and to imply a rational functioning that does not exist.

You likewise misunderstand what the ‘university’ actually is. The university is not something distinct from its various parts—the students, the employees, the professors, and so on—but rather is made up of them all. To suggest that one part of the university has a monopoly on wisdom at the exclusion of the others would be to neglect many of the lessons that a good historical education can offer.

posted by: Fairhavener on October 24, 2014  4:51pm

My beef with the GESO folks—stay out of our local politics!

Why must our local politics be so influenced by folks who can’t wait to leave this “crappy city that they can’t wait to get out of so that I can move back to LA, Seattle, Portland or any other “better” city?

posted by: Philippe Egalité on October 24, 2014  5:28pm

It’s a stereotype that all Yale graduate students “can’t wait to get out.” Many of us have fallen completely in love with this charming city, which combines character, friendliness (YEP! I said it), excellent restaurants, and amazing cultural opportunities with a small size that is extremely congenial and pleasant. What’s further, if I’m starved for something more, I can always take a quick train down to New York or drive up to Boston—but I rarely bother. I’m extremely happy here in New Haven.

I’m sure you know plenty of people who can’t wait to leave. I know many, many of us who love it here. Please don’t put us all in one box and don’t fault us for caring about this great city. When I moved here, I immediately registered my car here, started paying property taxes, registered to vote here, and so on.  I, for one, have no intention of being a disengaged citizen, which is what you seem to be suggesting I, as a graduate student, ought to be doing. I may not be a New Haven native, but I am a New Haven resident and citizen—and proud of it.