Yale Graduate Union Activists To Disrupt Commencement

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/05/18/yale-graduate-union-activists-to-disrupt-commencement/

The same stymied Yale University graduate student union that waged a “symbolic” hunger strike earlier this spring plans to stage a major protest during the elite Ivy League institution’s graduation proceedings, where former Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein will deliver the Class of 2017’s address.

This time, unlike the quasi-hunger strike the organization held outside President Peter Salovey’s mansion last month, they’ll be bolstered by hordes of outside sympathizers.

Aaron Greenberg, chairman of Local 33, who also serves on the New Haven Board of Alders, told the Hartford Courant he expects thousands of union members from all over the Northeast to crowd into New Haven the morning of Monday, May 22, the day of commencement. A report by the New Haven Independent notes that national UNITE HERE organizers, who belong to a labor group primarily representing hospitality industry workers, “have organized busloads of demonstrators to come from New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Washington D.C.”

According to a widely-circulated email to members of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, Bob Proto, president of Yale’s Local 35 UNITE HERE union, said families attending commencement “on Yale’s most important day” can expect to deal with union supporters “flooding the city of New Haven with working people, to show that nobody — not Donald Trump, not the Yale administration — will make us move backward.”

Local 33 and other university unions have accused Yale administrators of biding their time and refusing to negotiate until President Donald Trump appoints new members to the National Labor Relations Board. Last summer the NLRB delivered a blow to private universities when it voted to allow graduate students to unionize.

Yale has appealed the original NLRB decision, challenging the legality of the union vote. Yale has also pointed out that the university already waives tuition for doctoral students through the use of grants and tuition fellowships, in addition to providing students with health insurance, free room and board, and stipends of at least $30,000 per year.

According to Campus Reform, an email sent Friday, May 12 from the leader of the New Haven Rising pro-labor group, predicted that the Elm City “will become ground zero in the fight for workers under Trump.”

“Graduate teachers at Yale University voted to form a union. Instead of negotiating, Yale is trying to buy time until Trump appointees can void our votes and roll back our rights,” a recent Local 33 UNITE HERE Facebook post declared. “We are fighting back.”

“We have marched, picketed, occupied Yale’s campus 24/7 with our encampment called 33 Wall Street, committed acts of civil disobedience, and launched #TheFastAgainstSlow.”

The social media hashtag #TheFastAgainstSlow is a reference to the ongoing fasting episode various graduate students have undergone. However, as the Hartford Courant’s report notes, the hunger strike launched on April 25 is “tag-team” style, with students “fasting as long as they can safely and then passing the baton to another student who picks up the fast.”

The description has been widely mocked on social media. Word leaked to the world revealing the demonstrators’ team approach to hunger strikes after a research assistant at the Brookings Institution posted a photo of the union’s flier:

Meanwhile, Salovey and other top administrators at Yale have claimed that this past February’s union elections were illegally conducted. In a May 3 letter to the university, Salovey described the process as an “undemocratic method of department-by-department unionization chosen by Local 33.”

He labeled the process “a method unprecedented in higher education” and pointed out that at other Ivy League institutions, “elections were held across the entire graduate school, with several thousand students voting.”

Yale, Salovey noted, was subjected to “Local 33’s non-inclusive strategy” which “resulted in only 228 of the 2,600 Ph.D. students in the Graduate School casting eligible votes.”

Greenberg, in an interview with the Hartford Courant, contested Salovey’s number, claiming it was closer to 300.

“We won our elections, we had every expectation that we would begin the conversations with the university, that we would be negotiating with them,” Greenberg told the newspaper. “Instead, after winning our elections and attempting to set up some time to negotiate, the university administration told us that we had to wait, that our request was premature.”

Salovey in his letter argued that the matter “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,” Salovey added. “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.”

Salovey also noted that he feels “concerned” for the “eight of our students who have said they will continue to fast unless we give in to their demands.” He did not, however, acknowledge the well-documented guidelines of the so-called fast.

While Salovey and others have criticized Local 33’s “micro-unit” approach, the union nonetheless has landed the backing of dozens of prominent politicians and entertainers, including both of Connecticut’s U.S. senators, Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, along with Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (a Democrat whose district includes New Haven), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and musicians Melissa Etheridge and Tom Morello.

The last few weeks have seen the movement experience several periods of unrest, as documented by Local 33 UNITE HERE’s social media account:

Local 33 UNITE HERE members have said they plan to kick off their Monday, May 22 commencement day activities at 8 a.m.