Members of UNITE HERE Local 33 didn’t have energy for much on the eighth day of a fast to push Yale University to the negotiating table, but the young and the young at heart made up the difference.
The eight Yale fasters — newly unionized graduate student teachers protesting Yale’s refusal at this point to negotiate a first contract — stayed close Wednesday afternoon to the makeshift encampment their supporters have erected at Beinecke Plaza, trying not to exert too much energy after more than a week without solid food. Meanwhile a contingent of future labor union organizers was hard at work, chalking out messages urging the university to negotiate.
“This is a Yale building,” 11-year-old Lily Sutton wrote. “Everyone is treated fairly. Or at least they should be.”
Mira Barocci, who is 10 and a half, and 11-year-old Hanna Ziesche decided a rhyming prose summed the situation up best:
Yale is bad.
It makes us mad.
We’re so sad.
But we would be glad,
If you would just negotiate.
Faster Charles Decker of the political science department said graduate students and their children were invited to come and support the protest to remind people that Local 33 intends to make better child care a focus of negotiations.
“We’re not asking for the keys to the castle,” he said. “But we do believe that the university has a duty to collaborate and solve these issues.”
Fellow faster Robin Canavan, a PhD student teacher in geology and geophysics, said people assume graduate students are all fresh out of undergraduate studies with few needs. But she said some students, like her, relocated their lives from across the country (she came to Yale after finishing a master’s degree from the University of Wyoming) or from across the world.
She said there often are not a lot of options for graduate students with a spouse, children or both. For instance, she said, Yale insurance will cover your family if you have a child, but it won’t cover your spouse if you don’t. She said Local 33 would like to bring that issue to the negotiation table if it ever gets there.
It would also want to negotiate what she said is an arbitrary reclassification of certain disciplines, which excludes some graduate students from a new sixth-year funding program. She said some graduate students ended up losing 40 percent of their income because the program assumes that they can obtain grants. But those grants are competitive and will only be more so in the future, particularly under President Donald Trump’s administration should there be cuts to agencies like NASA.
“If we’d have a chance to sit at the table and negotiate,” she said, “I would have wanted something different.”
Salovey Weighs In
Meanwhile, Yale President Peter Salovey offered the university’s side of the ongoing controversy in the following university-wide email:
To the Yale Community,
I write to provide an update on the activities of UNITE HERE-Local 33, which seeks to represent the graduate student teaching fellows in eight of the fifty-six departments in Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. As many of you know, in January, the NLRB regional director in Boston ordered elections, which were held in February. Yale has requested that the National Labor Relations Board in Washington review the regional director’s decision. We are currently awaiting their ruling.
Yale appealed this decision because we are deeply troubled by the undemocratic method of department-by-department unionization chosen by Local 33, a method unprecedented in higher education. At our peer institutions, including Harvard and Columbia, elections were held across the entire graduate school, with several thousand students voting. But at Yale, Local 33’s non-inclusive strategy resulted in only 228 of the 2,600 Ph.D. students in the Graduate School casting eligible votes.
The question of whether a labor union and federal labor law will govern the relationship between graduate students and faculty members is too important to be decided by 9 percent of graduate students, or by a small group of activists. Yale’s democratically-elected Graduate Student Assembly voted last fall to oppose Local 33 and its micro-unit approach. We owe a responsibility to all graduate students, to the Graduate School, and to the university to await the outcome of the ongoing legal process that Local 33 began—not to short-circuit the process as the demonstrators have demanded.
I am concerned that eight of our students have said they will continue to fast unless we give in to their demands. At my request, Yale Health doctors have visited the fasting students, offering advice and care. I hope these individuals will decide to end their fast before medical intervention is needed. They are, above all else, our students, and their well-being is my foremost concern.
I strongly support the value of free expression on this important question, as on all other questions. But threats of self-harm have no place in rational debate when an established dispute resolution process still exists. Respect for law and legal process, civil argument and persuasion: these are the hallmarks of airing and resolving disagreements at a university.
President and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology