HARTFORD, Conn. — Yale University is challenging a bid by some of its graduate assistants to unionize, in proceedings this week before the National Labor Relations Board that other private U.S. universities are closely watching.
Yale maintains graduate assistants should not be allowed to organize, arguing they are students and not employees. But it also is contesting the graduate assistants’ strategy in which students in 10 departments with strong pro-union sentiment have petitioned the NLRB separately for elections and to negotiate contracts.
Tamar Gendler, dean of Yale’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, said after testifying at the hearing in Hartford that the union’s approach sidelines the majority of graduate students from the discussion.
“A department-by-department approach to unionization is contrary to the interdisciplinary, collegial community of the graduate school,” she said.
The NLRB ruled last month that graduate students at private universities who also teach and participate in research have a right to union representation, reversing guidance that had stood since 2004. Graduate students at many public universities, which are covered by state labor laws, are already unionized.
The week after the ruling, the Yale students filed with the NLRB for certification of Local 33-UNITE HERE as their union, saying they had organized to address concerns surrounding pay and benefits and to give themselves more of a voice in university affairs.
The push to seek elections for individual departments is modeled on the strategy of hotel workers represented by the same union that took advantage of an NLRB decision allowing union elections in “microunits,” according to Kristin Martin, legal counsel to UNITE HERE. By starting in departments where there is a clear desire to form a union, she said, the goal is “to avoid unnecessary legal gamesmanship.”
The hearing on Yale’s challenge began Monday. It was expected to take five to eight days.