yale students go on a hunger strike, calling for unionization

The protest is part of a growing wave of campus activism.

by André-Naquian Wheeler
27 April 2017, 9:30pm

photography david woo via flickr creative commons

Today, eight Yale graduate students began a hunger strike — calling for the Ivy League university to allow its graduate assistants to unionize and, consequently, acquire the ability to bargain for higher compensation and employee benefits. The students' action comes after the National Labor Relations Board, the government agency responsible for enforcing U.S. labor laws and prosecuting unfair labor practices, reversed its 2004 Brown University decision in August, 2016 and ruled that graduate students providing teaching and research assistance at private universities have the right to unionize.

Protesters accuse members of the Yale corporation and administration of dragging their feet and creating unnecessary hurdles for graduate students to achieve unionization. For example, not allowing the students to vote for unionization department by department, which would work more in their favor and, instead, calling for a university-wide vote. "What Yale could not stop, they are cynically trying to slow," Aaron Greenberg, a student union chairman, told Yale Daily News, reading from one of the demonstration pamphlets. "Yale wants to make us wait and wait and wait until we give up and go away. We have committed ourselves to waiting without eating."

Today's strike is part of a national trend. A tornado of student protests and demonstrations has been traveling across the States, a significant number of them protesting controversial conservative speakers like Ann Coulter and alt-right Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on their campuses. A handful of these protests have turned hostile and, at their most heated, violent. The Berkeley protest against Yiannopoulos's speech involved over "100 masked agitators," caused over $100,000 worth of damages, and saw two Berkeley college Republicans attacked, CNN reports.

So far, Yale's protest has been peaceful. On Tuesday, hundreds of students and supporters marched to the home of Peter Salovey, president of Yale. In response to the hunger strike, the university issued an official statement calling the demonstration "unwarranted by the circumstances." Tom Conroy, university spokesman, went on to say, "The University cannot compel anyone to refrain from this activity, but strongly urges that students not put their health at risk or encourage others to do so."

Why is the protest happening right now? Trump is a chief motivator, Greenberg told Yale Daily. The students are concerned that, under an extremely anti-union administration, the Board of Labor will be more sympathetic to ruling in Yale's favor.

No word yet on how the university intends to responds to the students' demands. 

i-D reached out to the Yale Student Union for comment and will update if a response is received. 


Text André-Naquian Wheeler 
Photography David Woo via Flickr Creative Commons

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