Earlier this week, eight Yale graduate teachers began a hunger strike to protest the university’s refusal to bargain with their union. Yale’s College Republicans responded by taunting the hunger strikers with smoked meat.
Representatives from the Yale Republicans refused to comment to a reporter from the New Haven Register, which was the first to report this story, before that reporter was removed from the site of the barbecue by campus police.
The underlying dispute between the university and the union involves some fairly novel questions involving how graduate employee unions should be organized. Last August, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recognized that graduate teaching and research assistants may organize and collectively bargain under a federal law protecting unions.
As Yale acknowledges in a statement, such graduate student unions now exist at several universities, including “Columbia, Harvard, Duke and Cornell.” Yale, however, objects to the manner in which its graduate students wish to organize.
Unions at Columbia, Harvard and other schools, Yale says, “all sought school-wide bargaining units.” The Yale union, by contrast, wants to organize into eight different bargaining units that will each bargain on behalf of graduate employees in eight different academic departments.
Although graduate employees in these eight departments voted to unionize, Yale asked the NLRB to review the union’s plan for “micro-units.”
Aaron Greenberg, a political science graduate student and union leader, meanwhile, claims that the university is trying to delay negotiations “until Donald Trump appoints new members of the National Labor Relations Board.”
The NLRB’s 2016 decision permitting graduate student unions reversed a 2004 decision which reached the opposite conclusion — at a time when the NLRB was dominated by Bush appointees. So there is a very real risk that the NLRB will reverse itself once again once Trump shifts the ideological mix on the board.