Yale grad students file petition seeking union certification

Yale University graduate students on Monday petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for union recognition, saying they have organized to address concerns surrounding pay and benefits and give themselves a stronger voice in university affairs.

The filing follows a board ruling last week that found graduate assistants at private universities are employees and have a right to union representation — a reversal of guidance that had stood since 2004. Graduate students at many public universities, which are covered by state labor laws, are already unionized.

At Yale, like some other private universities, graduate students had been preparing for months in anticipation of the ruling. In asking for certification of Local 33-UNITE HERE as their union, the Yale graduate students are seeking NLRB elections department by department, beginning with those where union support appears strongest.

"We've been ready to vote for a long time," said Local 33-UNITE HERE co-chair Robin Canavan. "We're extremely excited to have our election, make it official, and get to negotiating a contract for the improvements we want to see."

An NLRB spokeswoman confirmed receipt of the Yale students' petition and said the board did not have a count available on the number of petitions from other schools, if any, since its ruling last week in a case involving graduate students at Columbia University.

A Yale spokesman, Tom Conroy, said the university is opposed to a graduate student union. Yale President Peter Salovey said in response to last week's ruling that it presents an opportunity for campus debate, but he worries the relationship between teachers and graduate students could become less productive and rewarding under collective bargaining.

Yale students involved in the organizing effort said they believe a union would help them negotiate better terms and give them more influence over university policy, including efforts to promote diversity.

Emily Sessions, who is entering her fourth year in a doctoral program on History of Art, said she loves teaching undergraduates but believes a union would help negotiations for fair compensation. Last semester, she said, she was asked to double her teaching load — from teaching one section to two — without any increase in pay.

"The thing that bothered me was that I was expected to do double the work with no pay increase, with no voice in the process," she said.