Yale grad students cause gridlock over union spat; school responds

Protesters rallying following the university's refusal to come to the negotiating table to discuss an initial contract.

NEW HAVEN —  It’s been over two weeks since Yale graduate students began fasting, in protest of the university’s refusal to come to the negotiating table to discuss an initial contract.

So Thursday morning, they took their fight to the streets. In an effort to sway the public, Yale graduate students also delayed them for an hour.

“People have a right to get to work, to get to the hospitals, you know,” said Officer David Hartman of the New Haven Police Department.

As a result of three intersections being blocked, police said 23 protesters were issued summons, while three of them were additionally charged with interfering.

“Several among those arrested thanked officers for their professionalism and courtesy during the arrest process,” said police.

The protesters are calling for attention to the fact that Yale said it’s still premature to come to the negotiating table on a union contract for grad students.

Lena Eckert-Erdheim, a Ph.D. candidate in history, said, “We have sent petitions in, we have rallied. We’ve had politicians and local leaders ask the university to negotiate with us.”

Yale contends unions that have organized at other private universities have all sought school-wide bargaining units, not the separate departmental units Yale’s doctoral students want. So, they are awaiting a ruling from the NLRB.

“They are waiting for Trump to appoint new folks to the NLRB that will, you know, want to overturn our elections,” Eckert-Erdheim said.

The protesters called attention to the fact that 54% of female graduate students surveyed by the university recently said they have been sexually harassed at Yale.

So, having strong grievance options as part of a union deal “Would be very important for women to be able, women or anyone who is sexually harassed to be able to report those instances and have a procedure for addressing that,” said Alyssa Battistoni, another Yale graduate student.

These two women are among those fasting. All they consume every day is water.

Compensation is also among the issues for the grad students. But, Yale contends that, among first-tier research universities, they provide unsurpassed support to Ph.D. students.

Yale released the following statement following the protest:

Yale has strong and effective policies and procedures in place to address sexual harassment and other sexual misconduct. The accusation that there are no policies in place is false. All students with concerns or complaints are strongly urged to come forward by the University and receive the support and guidance that is available around the clock. Twice a year we put out a report of all complaints received from students and and how they were addressed. We don’t know of any other school that does that. A union of graduate students would not make Yale any more diligent and responsive on this issue than it already is on behalf of all students. We scrupulously follow the guidance and the directives of the federal government to meet the requirements of Title IX.

Officers said all affected roads were reopened by 10:15 a.m.