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NLRB Files Suit In Federal Court For TAs at Yale

Officials Charged With Threatening TAs

By Kelly M. Yamanouchi

The National Labor Relations Board has filed a lawsuit in federal court as a result of the tactics used by the Yale administration during the grade strike by Teaching Assistants (TAs) in December of 1995.

Last Friday, the president, provost and deans of Yale University were charged by the NLRB as a result of a complaint by TAs who were involved in a strike for union recognition.

"As employees, we have the right to organize with the confidence that we have some recourse, which of course put some constraint on the employer," said Robin L. Brown '88, a TA who was fired during the 1995 strike.

The "grade strike"--so-called because TAs withheld undergraduates grades--resulted from failed attempts at contract negotiations between the Yale administration and TAs.

Difficulties stemmed from the TA's not being able to unionize, said Eloise H. Pasachoff '95, chair of Graduate Employees and Student Organizations (GESO).

GESO lodged a complaint against the university in January of 1996.

The NLRB complaint accuses Yale administrators and professors of threatening its employees with expulsion, discharge, suspension and "a loss of spring semester teaching assignments and negative letters of recommendation" during the grade strike.

The complaint names Yale President Richard Levin, Provost Alison Richard, Graduate Dean Thomas Appelquist and Undergraduate Dean Richard Brodhead as violators of the federal labor law, according to a press release.

The government's NLRB received the complaint. The organization's general counsel announced his intention to file charges against Yale in November of 1996, the press release stated.

The GESO had originally intended to file the complaint in November of 1995 but decided to wait until January to see if they could settle the dispute outside of court, according to the press release.

"[The university] had the option of settling this case voluntarily," said Pasachoff. "The university has refused to settle. So now it's a matter for the courts to decide."

Pasachoff said that Yale has hired a "union-busting law firm" in New York to handle the case.

"They're pulling out all the stops," she said. "I know they're going to try to get around the notion that we are employees."

The GESO has made several attempts in the past eight years to establish recognition of a union, Brown said.

"It's very difficult to win because the university can basically do anything to you," she said.

"Graduate students at Yale voted overwhelmingly for GESO to represent them as a collective bargaining agent--in other words, they wanted a ,union," Pasachoff said.

"I think it makes sense that a group that does a lot of the teaching and the research has a collective voice," said Buju Dasgupta, a TA who was brought up on disciplinary hearings.

History

Despite the lack of recognition of TAs as employees at private universities across the nation, the Yale administration was the only one targeted by the lawsuit.

"I think that out of all the private universities that I'm aware of, TAs [at Yale] are more organized," Dasgupta said. "I think it could have been anywhere else, including Harvard."

The GESO said its main complaint is that the Yale administration and professors in particular treated the TAs unfairly.

"We considered the threats to be coercive and illegal," said Dasgupta. "We believe we have the protection that employers give to employees."

Brown said there was an atmosphere of fear among the graduate students during the grade strike last year.

"People were being threatened that they would not only lose their jobs at Yale but also lose their letters of recommendation," she said.

Losing recommendations is one of the most detrimental things an administration can do to graduate students, said Gordon Lafer, research director for the GESO.

"Letters of recommendation are the single most important thing to get a job," Lafer said. "It's really threatening to someone's career."

Toward the end of the grade strike, the administration called three of the elected union leaders up on disciplinary charges, Pashcoff said.

Brown said the action scared the TAs.

"By singling out one person, it threatened everyone," Brown said. "We knew it was illegal, but there was no precedent set--there was nothing stopping Yale from doing it."

The Possibilities of a Lawsuit

The Yale administration said it had every right to deny the TAs the right to unionize because they are not official employees of the university.

"The University contends that teaching assistants who are enrolled in Yale's Graduate School are properly treated as students and not as employees," stated a news release issued by Yale's Office of Public Affairs.

Thomas Appelquist, dean of the graduate school, said in the news release that mandating that universities give graduate students employee status would take away from their education.

However, Lafer said that now the General Counsel of the National Labor Law believes that TAs are employees.

"[This] is very encouraging," said Lafer. "But it's not the final word."

If the case against Yale is won, Lafer said the administration may have to give back pay for those fired or demoted, issue letters of apology and remove permanently filed disciplinary letters.

The TAs hope that by being allowed to unionize they can receive the benefits they deserve.

"Ultimately what we want is a binding contract, [emphasizing] the ability to negotiate the conditions of our work collectively with the administration," Brown said

"I think it makes sense that a group that does a lot of the teaching and the research has a collective voice," said Buju Dasgupta, a TA who was brought up on disciplinary hearings.

History

Despite the lack of recognition of TAs as employees at private universities across the nation, the Yale administration was the only one targeted by the lawsuit.

"I think that out of all the private universities that I'm aware of, TAs [at Yale] are more organized," Dasgupta said. "I think it could have been anywhere else, including Harvard."

The GESO said its main complaint is that the Yale administration and professors in particular treated the TAs unfairly.

"We considered the threats to be coercive and illegal," said Dasgupta. "We believe we have the protection that employers give to employees."

Brown said there was an atmosphere of fear among the graduate students during the grade strike last year.

"People were being threatened that they would not only lose their jobs at Yale but also lose their letters of recommendation," she said.

Losing recommendations is one of the most detrimental things an administration can do to graduate students, said Gordon Lafer, research director for the GESO.

"Letters of recommendation are the single most important thing to get a job," Lafer said. "It's really threatening to someone's career."

Toward the end of the grade strike, the administration called three of the elected union leaders up on disciplinary charges, Pashcoff said.

Brown said the action scared the TAs.

"By singling out one person, it threatened everyone," Brown said. "We knew it was illegal, but there was no precedent set--there was nothing stopping Yale from doing it."

The Possibilities of a Lawsuit

The Yale administration said it had every right to deny the TAs the right to unionize because they are not official employees of the university.

"The University contends that teaching assistants who are enrolled in Yale's Graduate School are properly treated as students and not as employees," stated a news release issued by Yale's Office of Public Affairs.

Thomas Appelquist, dean of the graduate school, said in the news release that mandating that universities give graduate students employee status would take away from their education.

However, Lafer said that now the General Counsel of the National Labor Law believes that TAs are employees.

"[This] is very encouraging," said Lafer. "But it's not the final word."

If the case against Yale is won, Lafer said the administration may have to give back pay for those fired or demoted, issue letters of apology and remove permanently filed disciplinary letters.

The TAs hope that by being allowed to unionize they can receive the benefits they deserve.

"Ultimately what we want is a binding contract, [emphasizing] the ability to negotiate the conditions of our work collectively with the administration," Brown said

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