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Yale Graduate Teachers Union Presses On With Struggle For Negotiated Contract

Graduate teachers at Yale University decided to unionize on February 23, after a vote by secret-ballot administered by the National Labor Relations Board.  They are now being stonewalled by an administration that refuses to negotiate with them.

In light of the university’s rejection of first contract negotiations, graduate teachers launched an indefinite fast aimed at pressing the administration into negotiations. One of the teachers taking part in the fast is Emily Sessions, a graduate teacher at Yale from the History of Art Department.

Sessions told Shadowproof that they began fasting on April 25 “because we have waited for years for the Yale administration to come to the negotiating table.” The Yale administration has kept them waiting. “So we decided to wait without eating,” Sessions said.

All those taking part committed to fasting until the Yale administration agreed to negotiate, “unless a doctor said they are at risk of permanent damage to their health.” Some teachers, including Sessions, went as long as 14 days without eating or drinking anything but water.

Sessions indicated on May 22 they celebrated the breaking of the fast with “thousands” of allies in “a Commencement Day demonstration.” The message of the demonstration was this is “just the beginning, Yale.”

Julia Powers, a graduate teacher from Yale’s Comparative Literature Department, informed Shadowproof that she fasted for a week because she was “tired of the Yale administration sweeping the crisis of sexual harassment on our campus under the rug.”

“I want a union contract because, according to Yale’s own report, 54 percent of women in the graduate and professional schools have been sexually harassed,” Powers said.

UNITE HERE is a labor union representing 270,000 workers across North America in various industries, particularly in hospitality and food service. Gabriel Winant, a graduate teacher in the History Department at Yale who works in labor history, described the union as one consistenting primarily of women and people of color, who come from all corners of the world.

The union has a “75-year history at Yale, over time growing to represent thousands of service, maintenance, clerical, technical, and graduate workers on campus,” Winant said.

According to a fact sheet released by Local 33, part of what moved so many teachers and allies to action was the fact that graduate teachers face insecure wages, inadequate benefits, and widespread sexual harassment. They demanded not only that Yale recognize their union but for the university to acknowledge these issues.

Union organizers call for “secure living, fair benefits, a workplace free from racism and sexual harassment, and a voice in their conditions.” They also demand that the Yale Corporation and Yale President Peter Salovey “immediately stop their tactics of delay” and “begin a constructive dialogue.”

Yale Law faculty described the university as an institution intentionally delaying the negotiations in order to “take advantage of the appointments that President Donald Trump will make to the NLRB.”

After voting to form department-level bargaining units with Local 33, UNITE HERE and graduate teachers witnessed an outpouring of support.

Over 12,000 people signed letters calling on Yale to negotiate. Thirty-three Wall Street—UNITE HERE’s protest encampment—has remained occupied by resisters, day and night, since April. Vigils have been held in front of the office of the Yale president.

There is a long road ahead, but Yale’s graduate teachers have no plans to give up.

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at