Yale Grad Union Withdraws Recognition Petition

Lucy Gellman PhotoNever mind.

After years of organizing, a partially won election, dozens of arrests and demonstrations, and a nationally watched hunger fast that drew leading politicians and celebrities like Melissa Etheridge to a protest encampment on Beinecke Plaza, UNITE HERE Local 33 quietly withdrew a petition for recognition as the union representing some of Yale’s graduate student teachers.

Local 33 — part of the larger union representing Yale’s blue-collar workers and office and research workers — formally notified the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of the decision to withdraw on Monday.

It was a signal that the movement to organize graduate student teachers on American campuses, which made progress under the eight years of the Obama Administration, is facing tougher sledding under the Trump Administration.

Last February the union, which has for 27 years sought to represent Yale’s graduate student teachers, succeeded in holding elections for representation in nine of 56 Yale departments. It won eight of those elections.Yale argued it did not have to recognize the union or negotiate with it, because the graduate school as a whole is one entity. Local 33 pressed ahead with the NLRB seeking recognition as eight separate mini-unions for the individuals departments that had voted for representation, arguing that they are distinct workplaces with distinct issues.

It was a precedent-setting argument that, had former President Barack Obama’s appointees still controlled the NLRB, UNITE HERE 33 might have won, based on how other decisions went during the past eight years.

But now Donald Trump is president, and he has been appointing business-friendly, anti-labor people to boards like the NLRB.

Lucy Gellman PhotoLocal 33, like similar unions reconsidering strategy on other campuses, concluded it made sense to withdraw from the NLRB quest as a result , according to Co-President Robin Dawson, one of the union leaders who went on a hunger strike last year.

“President Trump’s NLRB has repeatedly demonstrated its hostility to workers’ rights,” she said in a statement released Monday night.

“We continue to call on the Yale administration to address graduate teacher concerns and stand with the labor movement and against the Trump Administration stripping us and thousands of other workers of our rights.”

“The University has steadfastly maintained that Local 33’s micro-unit strategy was inappropriate and that the departmental elections were undemocratic,” Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart stated in a release Monday night. “Yale remains deeply committed to graduate student education, and to providing its teaching fellows with the mentorship and training necessary to complete their degrees and go on to rewarding careers.”

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posted by: Atwater on February 13, 2018  9:53am

So, if the fight looks difficult you stop fighting? Is that the example this union wants to set for others workers? If unions of the past employed the same logic who knows where labor would be right now. But, then again, these Yale Grad Unions are coming from a place of luxury that are unimaginable for most workers. So, I guess we can’t be too surprised that they shied away from the fight.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on February 13, 2018  11:06am

Clearly time for another HUNGER STRIKE!

posted by: wendy1 on February 13, 2018  11:40am

F*** the NLRB.  Congress is dead and the Trump regime is a runaway train.  After all the BS Local 33’s friends and members went through to get somewhere and that includes me… JUST GO ON STRIKE AND DEMAND A GOOD PAYING CONTRACT.  DONT LET THESE RICH GEEZERS GET AWAY WITH THIS.  The town will back you up.

posted by: 1644 on February 13, 2018  12:11pm

Atwater: As the Wizard said to the Lion, ” You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you’re confusing courage with wisdom.”  Were 33 to pursue this complaint,  it risks overturning the Columbia and possibly NYU precedents, and resurrecting Brown.

Wendy: as for a strike, one of the students’complaints was that the superannuated students weren’t getting enough work.

posted by: 1644 on February 13, 2018  12:13pm

To follow up on my Columbia comment:

posted by: 1644 on February 13, 2018  2:07pm

An interesting sign of 33’s implosion:
Note the link to the 2003 strike, which did not go well for the union.

posted by: 1644 on February 13, 2018  2:44pm

Okay, it appears the NLRB has already abandoned the “micro-unit” ruling that Yale was challenging, and that GESO depended on for recognition.

posted by: Atwater on February 13, 2018  2:44pm

1644: Again, they have no stomach for the fight. As I see it now they have nothing but a ‘right to organize’ but there’s no teeth to that, no collective power if the university admin is not compelled to recognize and negotiate with the union. The only way for labor to compel management to acquiesce to their demands is to strike and demonstrate their power and their value. Is it a lot to risk? Potentially, but there is a lot to won too.

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on February 13, 2018  3:13pm

Atwater — I think 33’s leadership did the melodramatic faux hunger strike for media attention b/c they couldn’t even garner enough member support for a brief walk-out.

My guess is a full-blown strike is out of the question. Most grad students might have some beefs and hope for a better deal from Yale, - but there is no significant animus or even a unified rallying cry.

posted by: 1644 on February 13, 2018  3:56pm

Atwater:  Who is the “they” whom you expect to strike?  The union does not enjoy the support of a majority of graduate students.  As in 2003, a “strike” would just reveal how insignificant and weak the union’s true believers are.  Remember, the union did not want a school wide vote, because it knew it would lose.  It selected 9 of 56 departments in which it thought it would win, and of those, lost one, and won another with non-grad student votes (law student TA’s voting in PoliSci).  One, also needs to remember, the grad students don’t teach every semester, so.  As I said earlier, some of their most reverent supporters are organizing because they are not getting fellowships after completing their requirements.  For many, “striking” would consist of not working on their theses, an action which does little harm to the university, but great harm to them, and could even lead to their being expelled due to not progressing in their research.

posted by: Atwater on February 13, 2018  4:38pm

So, I guess the real question is. Why do grad students need a union and why should non-grad students and other workers care? If really all they have to lose is the opportunity (privilege) to write a thesis which only advance their bourgeoisie academic career. I’m usually pro-labor, but it seems like it is a stretch, if not an outright falsehood, to call grad students “labor”. Too bad, it’s always good to stick it to the man.

posted by: robn on February 13, 2018  10:18pm

Great. Now can UNITE please give the Board of Alders back to the citizens of NHV?
PS I loathe that brass plate ignoramus in the White House but thank you for this.

posted by: BevHills730 on February 14, 2018  10:06am

As long as a strongman dictator is willing to crush workers’ rights, Robn is happy to provide him with praise.

posted by: robn on February 14, 2018  10:36am


As I said, I don’t like Trump either. As for the people depicted in the article, they’re students, not employees. But don’t ask me, ask the 90% of students who agree.

posted by: 1644 on February 14, 2018  11:40am

In Chestnut Hill, the UAW drops its NLRB petition:


Yet, in Cambridge, the UAW is pressing on:


posted by: robn on February 14, 2018  12:25pm


Here’s a Yale Daily News article quoting even those affiliated with the so-called union as being dissatisfied with the lack of transparency. Classic UNITE top down horsehockey.

posted by: 1644 on February 16, 2018  2:36pm

Meanwhile at Columbia, a strike is being planned,