Yale grad students hold pseudo-hunger strike over union contract

Amber Athey
Investigative Reporter

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  • Graduate student-teachers at Yale University have launched a hunger strike...kind of...to demand that the school recognize their newly-formed union and negotiate a contract with it.
  • In contravention of the entire purpose behind such a tactic, though, the union says it will substitute fresh strikers in before any of the participants experience negative health effects from the fast.
  • Yale is challenging the union vote before the NLRB, and also insists that the strikers are violating multiple university policies with their demonstration.
  • Yale University graduate students are holding a tag-team hunger strike to demand a union contract, with plans to send in fresh strikers to replace members who become too hungry.

    Eight members of Local 33—UNITE HERE, a newly formed union representing graduate student-teachers, started the hunger strike Tuesday after preparing their stomachs for several days beforehand by only eating vegetables, fruits, and eventually, just liquids.

    "It's disrespectful to those who have truly fasted for a cause they believe in.”   

    The fasters will say they will continue their protest—which even precludes consuming coffee, juice, or vitamins—until the university sits down with them to negotiate their first contract, The New Haven Independent reports.

    [RELATED: Grad students move to unionize nationwide]

    None of the student-teachers interviewed by the Independent said they would be willing to risk hospitalization for their cause, however, instead asserting that when a member’s health becomes endangered by the fast, the union will swap in another person to take their place.

    Some participants said they had previously fasted for 24-hours for Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday, but had never gone longer than that without nourishment, though they were prepared for any eventuality, even stocking wheelchairs in case their hunger impairs physical mobility.

    Some Twitter users have criticized the hunger strike, calling it “symbolic” and “disrespectful to those who have truly fasted for a cause they believe in.”

    The union members, of course, insist that their quasi-drastic course of action is justified because the university has missed two union-imposed deadlines to begin contract negotiations while it challenges the process leading to the union’s formation before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

    “Every time I speak out, Yale acts as if they can’t hear me or that they would prefer that I am invisible. So I am taking this action—this very physical action—to make sure my voice is heard,” Charles Decker said. “If I have to wait a little while longer, I will, but I’m doing it without eating.”

    Yale says the fast is “unwarranted by the circumstances” because the school and union are currently locked in multiple legal challenges regarding the formation of the union.

    Yale claims that the initial union votes were conducted so as to minimize participation and give undue influence to pro-union students, and that graduate students at private institutions should not be considered “workers” in the first place.

    [RELATED: Voting reveals opposition to unionization, Yale admin claims]

    In addition to the movable hunger strike, protesters erected a wooden structure on the Beinecke Plaza dubbed “33 Wall Street” or “Little House on the Plaza.”

    Yale officials assert that the protesters did not secure a permit to use the plaza, and that they would not have been allowed to build structures there even if they had, but the protesters ignored officials’ requests to leave the area.

    “We’re staying here. We have no intention of leaving,” declared Aaron Greenberg, the union’s chair. “I have every expectation that the university will sit down and negotiate with us, just as in the past—whether it’s admitting women to Yale College, negotiating with Local 34, changing the name of Calhoun College—the university has a long history of saying no before they say yes.”

    Campus Reform reached out to Local 33 but did not receive a response by press time.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @amber_athey



    Amber Athey

    Amber Athey

    Investigative Reporter

    Amber Athey is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. She graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Government and Economics, and is currently a member of the 2016-2017 Koch Associate Program. 

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