Teaching assistants unite over strike

January 19, 1996

Graduate students who work as teachers, graders, tutors and researchers have been on strike at Yale University in a dispute closely watched by other private universities and colleges in the United States.

Long the foot soldiers of undergraduate education, the teaching assistants want to form a union and negotiate for better benefits and pay. They refused to hand in fall-semester grades but called off the action when the university theatened to fire them. But they are maintaining their demands, including union recognition.

"The university couldn't run without us," said Robin Brown, head of the Graduate Employees and Student Organisation, which represents about a quarter of Yale's 2,500 graduate students. "Universities in the US are run increasingly like corporations and what this university is doing these days is trying to use the cheapest ways it can to get the work done," Mr Brown said. "And teaching assistants come cheap."

Teaching assistants receive a stipend averaging $9,800 (Pounds 6,500) a year and no medical benefits or housing, though Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said that most get grants toward their tuition and "a superb education".

Mr Conroy said the university considers teaching assistants students, not employees, and "wishes to keep their status as it is".

Unions for teaching assistants have made significant inroads in the last few years, and are recognised by 11 public universities. Last month, a court ruled that teaching assistants at the University of California at San Diego were employees, not just students, and could form a union.

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