Yale’s self-styled graduate student union, Local 33, says the prestigious university’s administration refuses to recognize their collective bargaining rights, and they’re going on a hunger strike until Yale’s president gives up his union-busting ways.
In a grandiose demonstration that included a linked-arm march across Yale’s campus, speeches from social justice legends and Democratic National Committee members, and comparisons to the plight of Cesar Chavez on behalf of migrant workers, eight Ivy Leaguers from Local 33 began what they say is a long term fast in front of the Yale’s president’s official residence.
It’s a symbolic hunger strike, however; students will strike until they are hungry, at which time they will be replaced with other students.
The “Fast For Slow” is in protest of Yale’s refusal to begin collective bargaining with Local 33, which formed up in February, after the National Labor Relations Board decided graduate students were university employees and allowed to form labor unions.
For more than two decades, Yale has been feuding with its arts and humanities graduate students over whether they can form a union. Yale argues that the students are just that, students, most of whom get free tuition. Yale further argues that the teaching assistant work these elite students do (for a stipend) is part of their education.
The graduate students have long argued that they make almost no money and have dire prospects on the moribund academic job market — and that Yale takes advantage of them to teach bratty, wealthy undergraduates for pennies.
In sum, there’s no love lost in New Haven between the tenured professors and their embittered grad students .
GESO, as the graduate student union used to be called, finally won big when the NLRB ruled last year that graduation students at another Ivy League university, Columbia, can unionize. Yale is now among the universities challenging the NLRB’s ruling – and has no interest in bargaining with its graduate students in the mean time. That’s the strikers’ main concern.
“I’ve been waiting for Yale to negotiate for four years. That doesn’t seem to matter to them,” Local 33’s chairman told the local news. “They want Trump’s NLRB to crush our union.”
In addition to free tuition and the $30,000 “stipend” for teaching assistant work, Yale also offers its grad students free health care for themselves and discounted health care for spouses and dependents. But Local 33 says that’s not enough. Among their demands, complete “funding security, mental health care, affordable child care, equitable pay and parity for marginalized communities in academia.” They also want protection from sexual harassment, which they claim is “common” on Yale’s campus.
“Yale tried to assign a sexual predator to oversee my work and decide my future,” said one graduate student who is pursuing a degree in comparative literature. “There is an ongoing crisis on campus that Yale sweeps under the rug.”
In a statement to the Yale Daily News, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy called Local 33’s bargaining premature and said the hunger strike was “unwarranted.”
“The University cannot compel anyone to refrain from this activity, but strongly urges that students not put their health at risk or encourage others to do so,” Conroy said.
He doesn’t need to worry as the “symbolic” hunger strike allows these union wannabes plenty of opportunities to satisfy the munchies.