At a recent Local 33 rally on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven. Thomas Breen

Yale graduate teachers and researchers have voted overwhelmingly in support of forming a union — marking a local-labor milestone that caps three decades’ worth of organizing for better working conditions on campus.

That was the outcome of Monday’s National Labor Relations Board count of the ballots cast in Local 33’s first election since 2017. 

The final tallying of votes took place a little more than a month after eligible Yale grads quietly slipped into polling places across downtown to cast their ballots on whether they wanted to be represented by a union. A small selection of out-of-town eligible voters were also able to send in their ballots by mail through Jan. 6. 

According to NLRB regional spokesperson Kayla Blado, the final tally for Local 33’s election was 1,860 votes in support of the union and 179 votes against. Blado said that another 146 votes were ​“challenged” and three more were voided. Roughly 3,214 were eligible to vote in the election.

“The employees have voted for union representation,” Blado told the Independent by email when asked what this vote means and what happens next. ​“The parties have five business days to file objections to the election. If no objections are filed, the results will be certified and the employer must begin bargaining in good faith with the union.”

In an email statement sent out to the Yale community on Monday, Yale President Peter Salovey said that ​“the university will now turn to bargaining in good faith with Local 33 to reach a contract.”

Monday’s union election win marks the culmination of the latest revived organizing drive in a campus unionization effort that dates back to the early 1990s. With the help of local and state elected officials and UNITE HERE organizers, Local 33 has shut down downtown streets over the past year with thousands of demonstrators who have marched and spoken about winning a union in order to improve pay, healthcare, working conditions, and other benefits for their members.

Monday’s overwhelming union election victory for Local 33 marks quite the shift from the last time the aspiring union held an election in 2017. Back then, Local 33 pursued a department by department electoral strategy — holding elections in nine of 56 Yale departments, and winning only eight. Local 33 then quietly withdrew its bid for union recognition in 2018 in the face of a labor-hostile NLRB under then-President Trump. This latest election also takes place amid a rising tide of graduate union organizing across the country.

The ballot count was livestreamed via Zoom Monday from the NLRB’s regional office building in Hartford. A team of NLRB workers stood and shuffled through boxes after boxes and stacks after stacks of ballots as representatives from Local 33 and Yale University sat in blue cushioned office chairs observing the proceedings.

“Yes. Yes. No. Yes,” the four alternating NLRB ballot counters read aloud again and again behind their face masks, occasionally turning to the camera to explain to the 50-plus people watching online that photos and video recordings of the proceeding were strictly prohibited.

“For those of you watching, there was one ballot that had an unconventional mark,” the ballot-count moderator told the Zoom audience just before 1:20 p.m. in one of the few brief interruptions to Monday’s count. ​“And the union has challenged the ballot.” The vote tally finished at around 2:30 p.m.

Right after the tally had concluded, Local 33 sent out an email press release celebrating the results.

At an October grad union rally. New Haven Independent photo.

“For decades our campaign has fought to improve the working conditions of graduate workers on our campus,” Yale Genetics Department graduate researcher Madison Rackear is quoted as saying in that press release. ​“We’ve been inspired by the union standard that our sibling unions Locals 34 and 35 have achieved through decades of organizing. I’m looking forward to winning a great first contract that will make graduate education at Yale more accessible to other working-class scholars.”

“I’ve been looking forward to this day for years,” Local 33 Co-President and Yale physics graduate teacher Ridge Liu is quoted as saying in that same press release. ​“Grad workers need better pay, better health care, and real grievance procedures. Generations of grad workers have organized before us, and I’m really excited to finally win. I know our first contract will be one that future generations of grad workers will be able to build on. It’s great that the Yale administration did not engage in the same level of union-busting as they have in the past, and I hope they will bargain in good faith moving forward.”

“We’ve always stood with the grad teachers and researchers in their fight for respect and union recognition,” Local 35 President Bob Proto is quoted as saying in the Local 33 press release. ​“I couldn’t be happier to welcome them into the UNITE HERE family here at Yale. I’m proud of the productive problem-solving relationship union workers have built with the university over the years — but we know how to fight for what we deserve too. I’m excited and hopeful to see what wins Local 33 secures in their first contract.”

Click here to read a full previous Independent article about this election with eligible Local 33 voters.

The election was open to roughly 4,000 Yale teaching fellows and research assistants at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, the School of Management, the School of Music, the School of Medicine, and in other professional degree programs. The election was not open to teaching fellows at Yale’s Drama School, the School of the Environment, and a host of other campus graduate workers. (Click here to read a detailed breakdown of who was eligible to vote, who wasn’t, and who could cast a contested ballot in the union election.)

“Graduate workers at Yale have maintained one of the country’s longest continuous union representation drives against fierce opposition from the Yale Administration, including previous refusal to recognize the results of NLRB elections,” Local 33’s press release concludes. ​“If the Yale administration recognizes the results of this election, teachers and researchers from Yale’s graduate and professional programs will begin the process of negotiating their first union contract.”

U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro joined in on the celebration by sending out a separate email press release Monday heralding the union election news. “When workers are allowed to form unions, it gives workers a voice, improves benefits, and critically, leads to higher wages,” DeLauro is quoted as saying in that press release. ​“This has been a decades-long fight for a union for Yale’s graduate students, teachers, workers, and researchers. I am so thrilled that Local 33 voted overwhelmingly to form a union at Yale University. I am proud to have been fighting alongside organizers in this effort since 1991 and commend those workers whose overwhelming support in this election has made the formation of this union real. Congratulations!”

This story was originally published Jan. 9, 2023, by the New Haven Independent.