Update on graduate student unionization

President Peter Salovey sent the following message to the campus community on May 3.

I write to provide an update on the activities of UNITE HERE-Local 33, which seeks to represent the graduate student teaching fellows in 8 of the 56 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.

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