Union members act on threat to disrupt Yale commencement

Thousands of union members protested at Yale University’s commencement Monday to demand contract negotiations from a reluctant administration.

As Campus Reform has previously reported, members of a graduate student-employee union, UNITE HERE Local 33, launched what became a month-long hunger strike to pressure administrators into supporting the unionization of its student-teachers.

None of the protesters, though, said they would be willing to risk hospitalization for their cause, instead asserting that when a member’s health became endangered by the fast, the union would simply swap in another to take their place.

Their efforts have thus far been unsuccessful as school administrators have repeatedly neglected to meet the union’s deadlines for beginning negotiations, pushing Local 33 hold a protest that coincided with Yale’s commencement.

[RELATED: Spurned union plans to disrupt Yale’s commencement ceremony]

According to the Associated Press, more than 1,000 protesters participated in the march across campus, and in one case a protester actually disrupted the commencement by storming the stage and grabbing a microphone, though it’s unclear if he was a member of Local 33.

Video of the demonstration shows protesters chanting “we’re certified, negotiate,” with the sheer number of demonstrators taking up a full city block, according to Buzzfeed reporter Cora Lewis, who noted that many of the protesters came from Harvard University, Columbia University, and Princeton University, where efforts to unionize have also been met with opposition.

Prior to the demonstration, Yale released a statement on the anticipated protest, saying it would not “tolerate the disruption of university events and activities.”

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“The university regrets the union’s efforts to seek media attention by interfering with the day-to-day activities of our community,” reads the school’s statement. “Yale strongly values freedom of expression and respects the protesters’ right to demonstrate, but does not tolerate disruption of university events and activities or interference with speakers.”

The statement goes on to condemn Local 33’s “aggressive organizing tactics,” noting that a January vote to unionize was tainted because Local 33 had employed a “controversial strategy of micro-unit organizing” in which members can organize to the exclusion of co-workers so long as they share “an overwhelming community of interest.”

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

Yale is appealing the vote before the National Labor Relations Board, noting that “only 157 out 2,600 Ph.D. students, in just 8 of 56 departments, voted for the union.”

Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, scoffed at Yale’s decision to appeal, saying the school has put its “reputation at risk” by resisting efforts to increase its labor costs.

“Yale University President Salovey has put Yale’s reputation at risk, setting it apart from peer institutions by not recognizing workers’ rights to bargain collectively,” she wrote. “Not only is Yale’s obstruction unlawful, it is grossly unethical and contrary to Yale’s stated mission.”

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