The COVID-19 pandemic poses massive challenges for the health, work, and daily lives of graduate workers and their families. We expect that these disruptions will be complex and ongoing. But it is also clear that the pandemic has only accelerated the slow-rolling crises of academic work at Yale and elsewhere. And it has thrown into even sharper relief the unequal relationship between Yale and New Haven.
When we compiled the preliminary responses to the survey we circulated, several areas of concern came up over and over again. In response, we call on Yale to immediately commit to do the following: create universal funding extensions, provide comprehensive access to healthcare, pay a fair share to the city of New Haven, reverse hiring freezes and extend existing teaching contracts, and ensure access to housing for graduate workers.
Universal funding extensions: Local 33 joins other academic unions, professional associations, and student organizations demanding that Yale extend an additional year of funding, equivalent to the full stipend amount, to all graduate workers, regardless of department, year, progress to degree, or work assignment. As an already strained job market worsens, we continue our call to reverse the existing pay cuts and pay disparities for upper-year graduate teachers.
Comprehensive access to healthcare: No one should lose their healthcare during a global health crisis. As many graduate workers have had to change their working location and conditions, Yale must act swiftly to offer protections and encourage remote work by extending affordable and accessible healthcare and mental health care coverage out of state. The policy of seeking pre-approval before obtaining healthcare is onerous and unsustainable, especially in a rapidly changing healthcare landscape. Additionally, we call on Yale to extend an additional year of full health and mental health coverage, at no cost, to graduate workers who are currently uninsured due to medical leave or loss of coverage through a partner or other family member, and to any graduate workers who will lose their healthcare on July 31.
Yale and New Haven: The City of New Haven loses an estimated $140 million dollars per year in revenue due to the tax exempt status of Yale-owned property. COVID-19 will stretch already overburdened city services and a hard-to-balance city budget to the limit, which will exacerbate economic and racial inequality in our city. The poorest neighborhoods in New Haven, with the highest rates of unemployment, are still the ones that were cordoned off by racist redlining maps made nearly a century ago. It is these same neighborhoods that have been, and will continue to be, the hardest hit by COVID-19. We have long stood with community and labor allies in the fight to make good jobs at Yale accessible to New Haven residents, and we continue to support efforts to get the city’s wealthiest institutions to pay their fair share.
Budget and hiring freezes: Yale has already announced a hiring freeze effective through the academic year 2020-2021. Yale’s austerity mindset over the past decade has disproportionately harmed scholars of color. We join calls to extend the contracts of contingent instructional faculty through the next academic year. We know Yale has the money — in fact, Yale’s $30 billion endowment has a history of targeting assets that are likely to be profitable in times of crisis, including distressed debt and home foreclosures. Yale must use its financial resources to support the university’s least secure employees and marginalized communities.
Housing and other resources: Many graduate workers who live in university housing are set to lose their housing in May, and face difficult and uncertain circumstances. With travel restrictions in place in the United States and internationally, many of them have no easy options for relocating. Other graduate workers are paying rent on housing that they can no longer live in. Lost research funding or employment, and unanticipated living expenses will create long-term financial difficulties for many graduate workers. We call on Yale to immediately expand access to emergency funding for all graduate workers, to allow graduate workers in university housing to remain in their current residences at no additional cost, and to provide significant housing assistance if relocation is required.
Graduate workers at Yale have sought union recognition for almost thirty years. The university’s consistent claim that our salaries and benefits are sufficient, and that our work doesn’t count, has become even more untenable over the last few weeks. We have provided absolutely essential labor in the transition to online instruction and the reorientation of scientific research. Our teaching and research have changed rapidly in significant ways with little input from us.
We are currently navigating frightening uncertainty around our healthcare and finances, the future of our work, and the well being of our families and communities. Graduate workers deserve a seat at the table and the stability of a contract. We reaffirm that our work makes the university work, and that a contract is essential for protecting graduate workers.