News

The Path to Public Service at SEAS

News

Should Supreme Court Justices Have Term Limits? That ‘Would Be Fine,’ Breyer Says at Harvard IOP Forum

News

Harvard Right to Life Hosts Anti-Abortion Event With Students For Life President

News

Harvard Researchers Debunk Popular Sleep Myths in New Study

News

Journalists Discuss Trump’s Effect on the GOP at Harvard IOP Forum

Judge Throws Out Yale T.A.'s Labor Grievance

By Matthew W. Granade

Yale officials won a symbolic victory on Monday in their six-year battle to stave off a graduate student union, the Graduate Employees and Student Organization (GESO), at the university.

In an order earlier this week, Michael O. Miller, an administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), ruled the grade-strike that GESO held at the beginning of 1996 was not protected under labor law. The 'grade-strike' involved nearly 200 graduate students withholding grades of undergraduate courses, according to union leaders.

The case received national attention because at the center of the issue rests the question of whether graduate students who teach for a university are employees--and thus able to unionize--or students.

On Monday, the judge issued a three sentence order and said the body of his decision would follow shortly. Both parties believe that his decision will not answer the question of whether the GESO members are students or employees, leaving the most significant question in this case unanswered.

Yale officials hailed the decision as a complete exoneration of their response to the grade-strike.

"This decision fully vindicates the action of the Yale administration and faculty in not allowing GESO tactics of holding undergraduate grades to gain them recognition as a labor union," said Dorothy K. Robinson, vice president and general counsel at Yale.

In response to the grade strike, university administrators had threatened to withhold teaching assignments, to expel teaching assistants (T.A.) who had participated in the strike and to put negative letters of recommendation in their files.

Attorneys for GESO filed a complaint earlier this year alleging Yale's response to the strike constituted retaliation and aimed at preventing the union's formation, which is illegal under labor law.

Yale officials requested the dismissal on the grounds that the GESO's withholding of grades was only a partial strike, which is not protected under labor law. When teaching fellows refused to release students' grades in the winter of '95-'96, they continued teaching, grading papers and exams and writing recommendations--just not submitting grades.

"The meaning of the decision is that regardless of their status, they had no right to do what they did," Robinson said.

In November 1996, the NLRB's general counsel ruled that GESO members were Yale employees allowing NLRB attorneys to start litigation against Yale, if the group was not recognized as a union and given collective bargaining rights. In response, NLRB attorneys in Connecticut filed the current complaint against Yale.

The general counsel's ruling, however, is not binding and can be overturned by the full NLRB in Washington, D.C., where GESO now plans to appeal its case, according to Antony Dugdale, GESO's chair.

"Nothing has really changed at all," Dugdale said. "All Yale has done is exploit a certain legal technicality."

GESO officials continue to point out that the judge let stand the general counsel's original ruling that the T.A.'s are employees of Yale and can unionize.

"It's important to separate what the judge's recommendation does and doesn't mean," said Scott Saul, spokesperson for GESO. "Yale's motion does exploit a legal technicality in applying labor law to graduate teachers, but it doesn't contest that graduate teachers are protected employees of the University.

In April, Yale had filed a motion-to-dismiss on the grounds that graduate teachers were students, not employees. Miller dismissed this motion.

Though Harvard's teaching fellows have not attempted to unionize, observers said the actions of Yale's graduate students are a part of a much larger trend.

"There's a lot of force building around all these issues," said Cary R. Nelson, Jubilee professor of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois and an expert in academic labor unions. "There's so much activity on so many campuses."

Nelson said if GESO can make the general counsel's decision recognizing its members as employees of Yale hold, it would impact universities across the U.S. where similar actions are taking place

Yale officials requested the dismissal on the grounds that the GESO's withholding of grades was only a partial strike, which is not protected under labor law. When teaching fellows refused to release students' grades in the winter of '95-'96, they continued teaching, grading papers and exams and writing recommendations--just not submitting grades.

"The meaning of the decision is that regardless of their status, they had no right to do what they did," Robinson said.

In November 1996, the NLRB's general counsel ruled that GESO members were Yale employees allowing NLRB attorneys to start litigation against Yale, if the group was not recognized as a union and given collective bargaining rights. In response, NLRB attorneys in Connecticut filed the current complaint against Yale.

The general counsel's ruling, however, is not binding and can be overturned by the full NLRB in Washington, D.C., where GESO now plans to appeal its case, according to Antony Dugdale, GESO's chair.

"Nothing has really changed at all," Dugdale said. "All Yale has done is exploit a certain legal technicality."

GESO officials continue to point out that the judge let stand the general counsel's original ruling that the T.A.'s are employees of Yale and can unionize.

"It's important to separate what the judge's recommendation does and doesn't mean," said Scott Saul, spokesperson for GESO. "Yale's motion does exploit a legal technicality in applying labor law to graduate teachers, but it doesn't contest that graduate teachers are protected employees of the University.

In April, Yale had filed a motion-to-dismiss on the grounds that graduate teachers were students, not employees. Miller dismissed this motion.

Though Harvard's teaching fellows have not attempted to unionize, observers said the actions of Yale's graduate students are a part of a much larger trend.

"There's a lot of force building around all these issues," said Cary R. Nelson, Jubilee professor of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois and an expert in academic labor unions. "There's so much activity on so many campuses."

Nelson said if GESO can make the general counsel's decision recognizing its members as employees of Yale hold, it would impact universities across the U.S. where similar actions are taking place

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags