Hunger Strikes and More Protests: Snowflakes and Unions Collide

Posted by Olivia Grady on Monday, May 8th, 2017 at 4:50 pm - Permalink

By Olivia Grady

It has been 11 days since Yale University graduate students who are members of UNITE HERE Local 33 decided to go on a hunger strike in front of Yale President Peter Salovey’s home. On April 25, 2017, eight members of the union went on a hunger strike to encourage Yale to negotiate with UNITE HERE. These members are: Local 33 Chair Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18, Co-chair Robin Canavan GRD ’19, Camille Cole GRD ’20, Charles Decker GRD ’18, Lukas Moe GRD ’19, Julia Powers GRD ’19, Emily Sessions GRD ’19 and Jifeng Shen GRD ’18.

In addition, students have held other protests. For example, they held one outside of a meeting for newly accepted students:

On Wednesday morning, a small number of graduate student union organizers attempted to block access to Woolsey Hall, disrupting an information session during “Bulldog Days” for high school students recently admitted into Yale College and their families. 

On May 5th, Local 33 members even posted a banner in the School of Management, which said “Trump University.” The sign refers to the fact that many believe the university is waiting for President Trump to appoint two new conservative members on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) so that it can avoid contracting with the union.

The whole problem started when UNITE HERE decided to organize students in February.

On February 23, 2017, graduate assistants at Yale University voted to join UNITE HERE after the NLRB ruled that graduate students could join a union on August 23, 2016:

“After months of conversation, we finally got to vote to form a union and to look out for one another. Now it’s time for us to sit down at the negotiating table and bargain a contract that addresses the issues that matter to us,” said Camille Cole, a graduate teacher in history and the secretary-treasurer of Local 33 — UNITE HERE.

The union decided with Yale to organize elections within departments, rather than school-wide. This decision led to a low-vote count. Only 228 students out of 2,600 voted in the election or less than 9 percent. The university did not support this method and even the Graduate Student Assembly passed resolutions against it.

The union members want funding security, equal pay for minorities, mental health care, and affordable childcare. They already receive over $30,000 in stipends, health insurance for themselves and at least half the cost for their families, and a grant that covers their annual tuition of $39,800. The total benefit that a single student receives is almost $375,000 for six years, while a family receives more than $445,000.

After the election, Yale asked the NLRB to examine the micro-unit strategy of the union. The NLRB has not released its opinion yet.