On Day 14, Hundreds Rally For Fasters

Markeshia Ricks PhotoAfter two weeks putting nothing more than water into their stomachs, three of the original eight graduate teachers still fasting to press Yale to negotiate with their union mustered the energy to ask their employer: How much longer?

They asked how much longer Yale will make them wait before university officials will recognize their newly elected union, UNITE HERE Local 33, and begin negotiations on health care, gender equality, and racial diversity. The union, which represents graduate student teachers at six out of 50-odd academic departments at the university, is seeking a first contract. It has accused Yale officials of using stalling tactics to give President Donald Trump time to make new anti-union appointments to the National Labor Relations Board. Yale has said that it is waiting on the board to rule on its appeal of a decision to allow just some graduate student teachers to vote in a recent unionizing election.

Three of the original eight fasters remain on a water-only diet; five other Local 33 activists have taken the place of five other original fasters, who swapped out on medical advice.

On Tuesday, the three remaining original fasters were pushed in wheelchairs onto the green of the Cross Campus for a rally to mark the protest’s second week. They sat with former fasters and their surrogates, and the likes of U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Mayor Toni Harp, and Board of Alders President and Local 35 Chief Steward Tyisha Walker to press their case against the university. Some 200 supporters, who created a human clock, joined them, urging Yale officials to speed up time, and stop the fast by getting to the negotiating table.

Lukas Moe, a graduate student teacher in the English department, talked to the crowd about mental health care — or the lack of adequate care for graduate students. He’s watched friends become depressed, hospitalized, expelled from Yale and then deported without ever receiving the mental health care needed.

“We’ve been demanding real mental health care because it takes months to get an appointment here at Yale,” he said. “You only get a few months of care then they drop you. You have to wait a year [for more care] and then you have to start over at the back of the line. Everyone deserves access to the care they need to be healthy.

“Together we can name the problem for what it is,” Moe said. “It’s not a problem with us, but a problem with Yale. How much longer will Yale make us wait three months for an appointment? How much longer do we have to wait for real coverage? How much longer do we have to wait for our union, for the power and the voice we deserve? How much longer does Yale want me to fast? Because I will go on as long as I can and I know that others stand ready to take my place. Fourteen days is nothing next to three months, or next to 12 sessions. How much longer?”

Moe said he was feeling exhausted, but hopeful that the graduate student teachers will prevail and the show of support from not only different parts of the Yale community, including from faculty members means a lot. The graduate students got a boost from Jennifer Klein, a Yale history professor, who wrote this opinion about the fast for The New York Times. (Another professor, Amy Hungerford, wrote this countervailing opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education.)

“It means a lot to us as the people who work with them every day,” Moe said of the faculty support the fasters have received. “We teach with them and do research with them. For them to say, ‘You guys are the future of the academy and we support you makes all the difference in the world and I think Yale takes it very seriously that we are a united front with the faculty.”

But the fasters don’t want a united front with faculty members who sexually harass female graduate students or marginalize them in the classroom, said Emily Sessions, an original faster who teaches in the history of art department, said. She chastised the administration for its inaction in fostering gender equality in the classroom or dealing with the results of its own 2015 survey that reported that reported that nearly 54 percent of women had experienced sexual harassment.

“I do not think you will find a woman in the graduate school who has not had a whole series of experiences of everyday sexism,” she said. “I’m talking about men interrupting, and classes where only men speak. I’m talking about men being praised for rephrasing women’s ideas. And about male scholars being called brilliant while women are hard working.

“It’s been this way for years and nothing changes,” she added. “Fourteen days is nothing next to 54 percent. How much longer?”

Local 33 Chair and Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg stopped fasting at the 13 and a half-day mark after losing between 15 and 20 pounds, but he was there Tuesday to support his fellow graduate student teachers. He was visibly thin, but in high spirits, marching from Cross Campus and taking several laps around Beinecke Plaza Tuesday.

“I was able to participate as long as I could and I am humbled by colleagues who continue and the colleagues who step in at a moment’s notice so that the fast can continue,” he said. “It meant a lot to me to know one of my colleagues from my department took my place. It was a very powerful experience. Very hard on the body. Very hard psychologically, but it meant so much and was so sustaining to have the support of our colleagues and our friends and family, elected officials, clergy and faculty and everybody who came to visit us at 33 Wall St.,” the “bowshed” temporary structure Local 33 has erected on Beinecke Plaza in defiance of the university.

The new graduate student fasters to be subbed in include Alyssa Battistoni of the political science department, Sarah Arveson of the people of geology and geophysics department, Alex Kolokotronis of the political science department, Chris McGowan of the English department, and Jeremie Koenig of computer science department.

Local 33 has taken some criticism for subbing out fasters when it is deemed medically unsafe for someone to continue to keep the fast going. Greenberg said it’s not a hunger strike. President Peter Salovey — who said Yale has a right to press its argument against the unionizing “Micro-election” decision at the NLRB — in a community-wide email message called on the activists to cease their protest, arguing that it’s better to conduct a debate through proper channels rather than have one side threaten self-harm.

“No one is threatening their health long term,” he said. “No one is threatening injury or death. This is an action that comes at a significant personal sacrifice. I’ve lost in the last 14 days around 15 to 20 pounds. I know many of my colleagues faced similar things. I faced low blood sugar and low blood pressure. It’s tiring on your body. Make no mistake about it is a very difficult sacrifice and it is made even more powerful not just because a few people are doing it on their own until they die, but because many people in our community who want to participate and take part continue to do it and do it safely.”

Charles Decker, an original faster who is still going, echoed that sentiment, saying that the idea isn’t to make Yale “race to the death,” but to emphasize the support of the community of graduate students. As one of only 32 black men out of 2,890 students in Yale’s graduate school of arts & sciences, Decker said, he has championed the cause of racial equity and wants to see the university lead on that issue. He said he believes when he has spoken up about the lack of racial equity, the university has attempted to make him invisible. He said fasting makes the problem of race equity on campus visible. He said he doesn’t know if the things that the graduate student teachers have identified as what they want to negotiate with Yale could have attracted the attention without the fast.

“It is such a powerful moment when someone else from the graduate school comes in and takes the place of that person [who couldn’t continue on],” he said. “It shows our strength and our resilience in a powerful way that I don’t know how we could replicate.”

Yale argues that it already provides generous terms for graduate students, who study tuition free and receive annual stipends of $30,000 a year or more along with health insurance. 

Another View


Earlier Tuesday, the outgoing chair of Yale’s Graduate Student Assembly, which represents student teachers in all university departments, offered an opposing view during an appearance on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven.”

The chair, Nicholas Vincent, a seventh-year biology PhD student who studies how ribosomes are made, said he respects the fasters’ dedication to their cause. But he argued that graduate student teachers and researchers are “apprentices,” not traditional “workers,” and that unionization threatens the relationship between faculty “mentors” and the students. He argued that the Graduate Student Assembly can more effectively advocate for members’ needs than a union can.

“Yes, we are doing work. Yes, we are teachers. We are also being trained to be scholars in our field,” Vincent said. “We are trainees” who wouldn’t yet be able to obtain permanent employment.

The GSA voted 45-10 (with two abstentions) this past September to stay neutral overall on the question of whether graduate student teachers should unionize. However the GSA voted 37-26 against being represented by UNITE HERE Local 33, and 44-17 with two abstentions) against the “micro-bargaining unit” strategy that led to the recent elections. Vincent noted that only 228 of Yale’s 2,600 Ph.D students got to vote in the elections; he agreed with Yale President Peter Salovey that all graduate students should be considered a single bargaining unit, as they are at Harvard and Columbia. Local 33 argues that different deaprtments have different enough concerns to require separate bargaining units.

In the WNHH interview, Vincent disagreed with the decision of Yale College Republicans to show their opposition to the Local 33 fasters by holding a barbecue steps away from the encampment to tempt them with the smell of cooked meat. He said more civil “conversation” should take place on campus about the graduate student teacher controversy. Asked if President Salovey should visit the encampment and chat with student protesters instead of primarily communicating by email, Vincent said “it would definitely be a change in how” discussion is taking place on campus right now.

Click on the above audio file to listen to the full interview with Nicholas Vincent on WNHH radio’s “Dateline New Haven” program. UNITE HERE, which has called for Yale to engage in more open dialogue, declined an invitation to participate in the program.

Paul Bass contributed to this article.

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posted by: LookOut on May 10, 2017  7:26am

This is a farce!  ‘How much longer?’ is exactly the question that most of us in the community are asking.  Stop the nonsense and get back to work.  This is a complete snow job/power play by the union.  Facts go a long way to exposing this;

Yale grad students get at least $70 a year in stipend and tuition PLUS healthcare and benefits for the student AND their family.

The union used a process that restricted the election to 9 departments that were identified as pro-union.  They won the micro-elections in 6 of these departments….BUT, out of 2600 doctoral students, only 227 were eligible to vote and only 133 voted in favor.  Does it sound fair to move forward based on the will of such a small minority of students (5%)?

A small minority should not be allowed to speak for, or negotiate for the majority.  This is the definition of tyranny.   

The majority of all affected groups oppose this.  > The city and its taxpayers don’t need another union trying to run things > Yale does not need a small group stirring up trouble >  and 95% of the students have not voted in favor.

All of the rest (and all of these flowery talks) and just attempts to create a smoke screen so that the facts are unknown.  See this for Yale’s statement;


posted by: robn on May 10, 2017  7:51am

Its shocking to see Rep DeLauro and Mayor Harp fall for this PR stunt. The protest is completely disproportionate to the position (one shared by only ten percent of grad students)  You guys are not Bobby Sands. You guys are not Martin Luther King. Get over yourselves.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 10, 2017  8:15am

Rosa DeLauro, Toni Harp, and Tyisha Walker wheel Decker, Sessions and Moe to Woodbridge Hall.

Again.Do not drink the kool-Aid.This is snake-oil and three card monte being sold out by Judas Goat sell out politicians.

Speaking of unions.Look at how Harp’s administration has attack the union Local 3144 where union workers have not received a raise in four years.Also the attack and the political witch hunt on Nichole Jefferson.

DeLauro invokes Civil Rights icon Congressman John Lewis.

Read the real deal on John Lewis.

John Lewis on Bernie Sanders: ‘There’s not anything free in America’

Specifically, Lewis was asked about Sanders’ promise of free college tuition and other programs. Said Lewis:

“I think it’s the wrong message to send to any group. There’s not anything free in America. We all have to pay for something. Education is not free. Health care is not free. Food is not free. Water is not free. I think it’s very misleading to say to the American people, we’re going to give you something free.”


Freedom Rider: No Tears for John Lewis


  Rosa DeLauro should invoke this man.

I am opposing a social order in which it is possible for one man who does absolutely nothing that is useful to amass a fortune of hundreds of millions of dollars, while millions of men and women who work all the days of their lives secure barely enough for a wretched existence.

Eugene V. Debs

posted by: AverageTaxpayer on May 10, 2017  9:08am

End the persecution of grad students!

Salovey belongs in jail for these human rights abuses!

Better dead than poorly fed!

posted by: Hieronymous on May 10, 2017  9:50am

Yesterday, two Yale professors offered differing, but equally thoughtful, commentaries on this situation. In the Times, Klein argued that graduate instructors are employees in part by showing that tenured and tenure-track jobs now account for only 30% of teaching positions in universities. In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Amy Hungerford argued that, regardless of the merits of the unionization question, the method of protest that Local 33 has chosen to advance its goals is wrongheaded and disrespectful. I tend to agree with both.

While there are reasonable arguments that graduate students are not employees and (in particular) that Local 33’s micro-unit bargaining strategy is undemocratic, the fact is that these arguments have been rejected by the NLRB in other cases (Columbia University and Specialty Healthcare, respectively), the NLRB’s regional director has specifically approved Local 33’s departmental petitions, and the students in 8 departments have legally voted to unionize. While Yale is within its rights to seek review in the NLRB, that does not excuse it from bargaining in the interim. So, I think the protesters are basically correct that Yale is cynically stalling in hopes that Trump’s nominations will flip the NLRB.

On the other hand, precisely because Yale is breaching its duty to bargain, it seems to me that the proper thing for Local 33 to do is to file an unfair labor practices charge or call a traditional strike. I’ve still not heard an explanation why these avenues are not available. And, to the extent other means of redress are available, I agree with Hungerford that a hunger strike (even an equivocal one) is inappropriate and unethical. A hunger striker advances his cause not only by making his body a physical manifestation of injustice but by putting his blood (or physical suffering) on his oppressor’s hands. That is a very grave thing to do and it is only warranted when the stakes are truly high and all other avenues have been exhausted

posted by: brownetowne on May 10, 2017  11:31am

The point of Graduate School is to achieve an in-depth understanding of a particular subject area.  Universities provide programs for students to take classes, receive mentoring from faculty, and get experience teaching or working on a relevant project.  The goal of the program is to gain knowledge and experience and then to GRADUATE.  The students, like those striking, who have an issue with this system are the ones that want to make a career of being a graduate student because they can’t finish their degree program.  They begin to feel entitled and because they’ve stuck around so long they begin to erroneously see themselves as being a quasi-faculty member.  I think these students should start eating and stop complaining and try to graduate.

posted by: the1king on May 10, 2017  12:46pm

This is so funny.  the lib politicians pushing these poor yale students.  They make it look like they are crippled and about to die.  I’m waiting for DeLauro to blame Trump for this.  What a joke

posted by: Noteworthy on May 10, 2017  12:53pm

Bully Notes:

1. These students, their union handlers and the pols that pander to the union and the students are playing bully. They think they can create lame stories like this, with their bodies enshrined in old lady blankets and wheel chairs to create a public spectacle to pressure Yale to giving up its right to appeal and be heard.

2. This is a sorry and pathetic saga.

3. Yale is doing nothing illegal - get that Rosa? Yale is exercising its rights and doing what’s best for the institution, as it should. Nothing should deter it from doing so.

4. This constant protest, the endless public scenes and marches down the street demanding that these pampered elites who already harvest between $330K and $445K across three years - are somehow lacking some compensation or access to healthcare is way past getting old.

5. If it takes some months to get mental healthcare - get used to it - that’s the real world.

posted by: wendy1 on May 10, 2017  1:31pm

Yale is a neoliberal corporation that hates unions and will continue to shaft the little guy until we make it change….and we have to make it change.  Every Yale compromise like “NewHavenWorks” has been a lie.  I will only vote for a mayor who will get tough and not grovel like Harp.

posted by: Christopher Schaefer on May 10, 2017  1:37pm

“former fasters and their surrogates”. A surrogate faster: Is that some sort of joke? “Lukas Moe, a graduate student teacher in the English department, talked to the crowd about mental health care”. OK, I actually can empathize here: anyone who would risk their health by having nothing but water for 2 weeks merely for a labor union (which, being a student entity, essentially represents temporary workers), definitely needs serious psychiatric therapy. Lukas Moe: “We’ve been demanding real mental health care because it takes months to get an appointment here at Yale”. Welcome to the real world where everyone ELSE lives! I’m surprised to see Rep. DeLauro here. Last time she meddled in a union-related dispute, (in 2012-14) she was served with a subpoena in Care One Management’s racketeering case against two locals of the Service Employees International Union. Care One, invoking the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), claimed the unions used illegal tactics, including extortion, that involved elected officials. Curiously, as soon as the subpoena was served, all further news about the case went silent: http://asiacruisenews.com/news/Transparency’s-end:-Sen.-Richard-Blumenthal-fights-subpoena-of-own-records-in-union-case

posted by: 1644 on May 10, 2017  3:56pm

Hier: Klein’s piece makes no sense.  If Yale is hiring too many non-ladder faculty, perhaps the faculty should organize and demand more ladder positions.  Perhaps the non-ladder faculty should unionize.  The Yalie Daily piece on non-ladder Yale faculty portrayed most as pretty content, well aware that Yale treats them better than most schools treat non-ladders, and better than some schools treat ladder faculty.  Their major complaint was condescension from ladder faculty.  As far as graduate students, I am unclear how many of the College’s courses are actually TAUGHT by graduate students.  My general impression is very few.  For the most part, grad students ASSIST faculty in teaching by leading discussion and lab sections, all under the in-direct supervision of the faculty member who actually teaches the course. The GSAS website specifically says that if a student lectures, he will be observed by the faculty member, and never left to lecture on his own.  Klein also says the students want “secure” employment.  As Browne says, they have a pretty comfortable position for five or six years, and, given the paucity of better employment, they do not want to graduate and move on, because they may be un or underemployed.  The paucity of ladder positions, of course, is hardly new, and something they surely knew when they decided to pursue a doctorate.
  I also note, in his video, Decker seems to think the union should govern GSAS’s admissions process, to ensure more black students.  The make-up of of the student body strikes me as an issue better addressed by the Graduate Student Assembly or the Graduate and Professional Student Senate.  If only the interviewer had asked the faster, “When do you intend to graduate?”

posted by: BevHills730 on May 10, 2017  8:04pm

It is hilarious that Vincent argues graduate teachers shouldn’t have the right to an NLRB election. But then argues the elections don’t satisfy his standard for democracy.

Not sure that advocates of disenfranchisement are very credible advocates of democracy.

posted by: Cherlyn Poindexter on May 10, 2017  9:00pm

Heartwarming to see two founders of Local 3144 in the City of New Haven, U.S. Congresswoman DeLauro and Mayor Harp support the Yale graduate students organizing.  What is a bit puzzling is Mayor Harps effort to bust the largest union 3144, in her city, with a Petition to remove approximately a third of the members from the bargaining unit which is now before the State Labor Board.  What the Mayor suggests President Soloveny should do, she should also do.  Words are not as important as actions, are Yale graduate students rights more important than city workers and residents? Shouldn’t her own workers be the most important?  We all deserve a descent contract!!!

posted by: Dean Moriarty on May 10, 2017  10:22pm

“Moe said he was feeling exhausted”

Now hold on, see, I can certainly empathize with that.

Oh wait…

“for graduate students, who study tuition free and receive annual stipends of $30,000 a year or more along with health insurance”

I forgot, I’m exhausted from working 12 hour days for nowhere near that kind of deal.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 11, 2017  8:42am

posted by: Cherlyn Poindexter on May 10, 2017 10:00pm

Heartwarming to see two founders of Local 3144 in the City of New Haven, U.S. Congresswoman DeLauro and Mayor Harp support the Yale graduate students organizing.  What is a bit puzzling is Mayor Harps effort to bust the largest union 3144, in her city, with a Petition to remove approximately a third of the members from the bargaining unit which is now before the State Labor Board.  What the Mayor suggests President Soloveny should do, she should also do.  Words are not as important as actions, are Yale graduate students rights more important than city workers and residents? Shouldn’t her own workers be the most important?  We all deserve a descent contract!!!

On point.

posted by: wendy1 on May 11, 2017  8:04pm

CP——-Take T. Harp with a grain of salt.  She is not the mayor.  Nemerson is.