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By Michael Rose
Aug. 29 — Graduate research and teaching assistants at Yale University Aug. 29 petitioned the NLRB for representation elections covering assistants in 10 academic departments, their union announced.
The petitions come on the heels of a National Labor Relations Board decision issued Aug. 23 that found graduate assistants at private universities are employees under federal labor law and eligible for unionization. That case involved Columbia University and overturned a 12-year-old precedent on union organizing among graduate assistants.
The union at Yale, UNITE HERE Local 33, said it was seeking separate elections under the NLRB’s 2011 Specialty Healthcare decision, which found that smaller bargaining units are appropriate if workers in them constitute a readily identifiable group sharing a community of interest.
The union’s strategy at Yale is different from that at Columbia, where the union seeking to represent graduate assistants filed one petition for a bargaining unit that would cover some 3,000 research and teaching assistants in all departments and schools of the university.
Various employer groups and Republican members of Congress have decried the Specialty Healthcare decision, arguing that it allows for smaller groups of employees to form “micro-unions” without input from members of larger employee groups who might also share a community of interest.
Kristin Martin, an attorney with Davis Cowell & Bowe LLP in San Francisco who is representing the union, told Bloomberg BNA that graduate assistants at Yale had been organizing “for a long time,” but that the university has “consistently opposed” their efforts.
In filing 10 separate petitions for representation elections—covering graduate assistants in Yale’s departments of comparative literature, East Asian languages and literatures, English, geology and geophysics, history, history of art, mathematics, physics, political science and sociology—the union hopes Yale administration will see that unionization can be successful.
The idea behind petitioning for smaller units “is that if there are certain pockets within the university where graduate teachers have expressed greater support for unionization, let’s test this out on small scale,” Martin said.
That way, the union can demonstrate to the administration that union representation and collective bargaining among graduate assistants won’t necessarily have a negative impact on Yale’s “educational functions,” she said.
Yale representatives didn’t respond to Bloomberg BNA’s request for comment.
“We are proud to represent the members of Local 33 as they take this historic step forward,” UNITE HERE President D. Taylor said in a statement. “For 25 years our union has fought for the right of graduate workers to organize and we will be behind them 100 percent as they win their election and join their fellow union members on campus in receiving the respect they deserve.”
UNITE HERE already represents service and technical employees on the Yale campus.
Aaron Greenberg, chairman of UNITE HERE Local 33 at Yale, told Bloomberg BNA there were approximately 800 graduate assistants in the 10 petitioned-for units, but that the “contours” of who is and isn’t included in the units would be determined by the NLRB.
“Our hope is that by filing in each department separately and by starting with the departments where the desire to form a union is overwhelmingly clear, that the university won’t engage in “wasteful legal gamesmanship and unnecessary delay” in recognizing the union, Greenberg said.
Greenberg added that the university hadn’t yet responded to the petitions. However, the university signed on to an amicus brief with other Ivy League institutions in the Columbia case, arguing that graduate assistants should continue to be considered students and ineligible for union representation under the National Labor Relations Act.
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