On October 21, Yale graduate students rallied and marched in downtown New Haven to demand that Yale University recognize GESO, the Graduate Employees and Student Organization and the graduate students’ right to form a union.

In April, GESO delivered over 1,000 signatures on a petition to University administration, which has refused to reply or acknowledge the organization.

Over 1,000 graduate students, undergrads, faculty members, union workers and community supporters lined College Street, which runs through the Yale campus, chanting “What do we want? Union! When do we want it? Now!” and “1-2-3-4 GESO’s what we’re fighting for! 5-6-7-8 Sit down and negotiate,” calling on Yale to meet with students and begin contract negotiations. Yale is the city’s largest employer, but residents from New Haven’s poorest and most oppressed neighborhoods have little opportunity to get jobs at the University or Yale-New Haven Hospital. Yale is largely exempt from property taxes and provides little job training to city residents.

Recognizing GESO would force Yale to negotiate a contract with graduate students, who take on additional responsibilities like teaching classes and grading papers on top of their research and education. Members of Students Unite Now, an undergraduate student organization, pointed out that “undergraduates know that the working conditions of graduate teachers are our learning conditions. The way in which the university values their work is how they value our education.” GESO is also demanding livable wages and benefits for its members and more resources for women and other oppressed groups.

UNITE HERE Local 35 Secretary-Treasurer Tyisha Walker told the crowd, “GESO, you are workers. Your work here at Yale matters. Yale, you might set the standard for corporations but the unions set the standard for people in New Haven and for workers.” A number of unions supported the action and the GESO petition drive, including UNITE HERE locals 34 and 35, the AFL-CIO and Teamsters. Solidarity messages were delivered from Wesleyan University and from New York University. GESO members at NYU are currently involved in contract negotiations after a long struggle for recognition.

The October rally is the latest in a long struggle for graduate students at Yale and around the country fighting for recognition as workers. United action and support from undergraduates and community members can guarantee that Yale recognizes the labor performed by graduate students and begins to give back instead of take from the New Haven community.