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In historic move, Yale graduate workers overwhelmingly vote to unionize

Over 1,000 people withstood pouring rain at a rally to support Yale’s unrecognized graduate student union, Local 33, in their longtime fight for a contract with better working conditions and pay, as well as recognition for university employees on Oct. 13, 2022.

Yale University graduate teachers and researchers voted to form a union Monday, after decades of attempts to unionize.

As recently as 2016, the university challenged a bid by graduate assistants to unionize, arguing to the National Labor Relations Board that graduate assistants are students and not employees. Abigail Fields, a graduate worker in the French department, noted that years of organizing are making change.

“Yale is not engaging in union-busting tactics that they’ve engaged in in the past and is ready to recognize graduate workers as essential workers at this university, and ready to negotiate a great contract,” she said. “So I think it’s a real inspirational moment.”

COVID-19 highlighted a need for stronger workplace protections, a major reason to form a union. Graduate workers also cite concerns like better pay, health care and grievance procedures.

Arita Acharya, a graduate worker in the genetic department, said COVID-19 has exacerbated a need for the union, since graduate scientists contribute to Yale’s research.

“There were scientists, including graduate workers all around the world, in virology and immunology labs, who were essential to actually figuring out this disease, and how we can treat it and prevent it,” she said. “And, you know, I think we all really deserve a seat at the table and a say in our working conditions.”

Of the employees who cast ballots, 91% voted in favor of forming a union. The workers’ bargaining unit, Local 33, includes individuals in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Paul Seltzer, a graduate worker in the school’s history department, says the moment goes beyond their organizing efforts.

“There’s not only a wave of grad worker organizing across the U.S. but a wave of worker organizing across the country,” he said. “Just think about Starbucks, Amazon. The labor movement is really surging all over.”

The university will now begin bargaining with Local 33 to reach a contract. Yale has until Monday to file any objections.

Michayla Savitt is a reporter at WNPR. She was a newsroom intern in summer 2022, covering the environment, among other issues. Prior to that, Michayla was a production intern for WNPR's talk shows. She is an alumna of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism health & science reporting program. Additionally, Michayla has worked in various non-profit and commercial radio newsrooms.