Hundreds of graduate students at Yale recently voted to unionize. To school is doing everything in its power to stop the nascent union before it starts. Would it shock you to learn that the Yale official leading the anti-union campaign was once—yes—a pro-union guy, at Yale? What a world!
Yale, like most universities, would much prefer to exercise total power over its grad student workers, rather than to be forced to negotiate with a union, because a union will impair the ability of the school to exploit these grad students for its own purposes. (This is the extent of the faux-ideological opposition of most universities to unionism on campus.) The school is dragging its feet on beginning negotiations with the just-approved unions—almost certainly because the school knows that the Trump administration will soon nominate new ant-union members to the National Labor Relations board, and once that is done, the NLRB ruling that approved these sorts of grad student unions could be overturned. This is, to be perfectly clear, an Ivy League university playing hardball politics in hopes that the Trump administration will allow them to break their grad student employees’ union. Remember that the next time Yale tells you how enlightened it is.
In an effort to get the school to start negotiating, several Yale grad students are staging a hunger strike that has just entered its second week. The prime target of student demonstrations is Yale president Peter Salovey, who is leading the school’s opposition to the union. Got it? Peter Salovey, in 2017, is doing all he can to stop Yale’s grad students from successfully unionizing.
Now: transport yourself mentally, if you will, to ye olde year of 1984. The setting: Yale University. In the fall of 1984, clerical and technical workers at Yale who were members of the Local 34 union went on strike, after they rejected the school’s contract offer. The strike went on for ten weeks, and its bitterness is still remembered at the school to this day. Please, now, direct your attention to this bit of a UPI story about that 1984 Yale strike, dated November 3, 1984, in which we have helpfully highlighted a portion of interest:
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Yale University President A. Bartlett Giamatti walked from his home to his office one morning and along the way greeted a striking worker on the Ivy League campus.
‘Hi, Pete’ said Giamatti. ‘As long as it takes, Bart. As long as it takes,’ replied Peter Salovey, the 1983 president of Yale’s graduate students.
Yes—that was the 1984 version of Peter Salovey, out on the picket line, telling Yale University’s president to deal fairly with the union. Now, here is the 2017 version of Peter Salovey, in the form of a memo he sent out this week, which oddly does not explain that the school is trying to stall so that Trump’s NLRB can reverse the previous ruling friendly to campus unions:
To the Yale Community,
I write to provide an update on the activities of UNITE HERE-Local 33, which seeks to represent the graduate student teaching fellows in eight of the fifty-six 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.
President and Chris Argyris Professor of Psychology
Interesting how people change.