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Yale Graduate Students Seek Right to Bargain Collectively as Teachers, Researchers

Thomas Autumn
Creative Commons

Emily Sessions had just started a new semester teaching art to Yale undergraduates, when she was told that her teaching load would be doubled, but her pay would remain the same.

"So it really showed me how opaque and often uneven the process for assigning teaching is, and how important it is to have the ability to negotiate collectively for the terms of our work," Sessions said. 

Graduate assistants from ten Yale departments are petitioning the National Labor Relations Board to certify its union -- the Local 33-UNITE HERE. This follows a recent decision by the NLRB that found graduate teaching and research assistants at private universities are covered by labor laws and should be allowed to collectively bargain.

Fair pay, gender and racial equality, mental heath care and affordable child care are the key issues that a possible union would negotiate, according to Aaron Greenberg, a Yale graduate student and chairman of the Local 33.

"We're really excited to begin negotiating our contract and really changing our members lives through that contract and really addressing the issues that have come up repeatedly that have not been solved by the administration and that I think we can begin to solve with a union," Greenberg said.

Yale graduate students unionized earlier this year, but the union has no power unless it's certified by the labor board. Public universities have long allowed graduate assistants to unionize. The University of Connecticut recognized its students' rights to collectively bargain in 2014, and just last year they entered into a contract through 2018.

Yale's longstanding position has been that graduate assistants are fundamentally students. University President Peter Salovey has said that although he disagrees with the NLRB's decision, it presents an opportunity for the school to talk about the pros and cons of graduate assistant unionization.

Yale joined Harvard, Brown, MIT, Dartmouth and four other universities in filing an amicus briefwith the NLRB against unionization.

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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