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In a landmark decision, the National Labor Relations Board announced this week that Yale University has violated federal labor laws. The NLRB declared that Yale's threats to striking graduate teachers last fall -- including a ban on future teaching, academic discipline, negative letters of recommendation and expulsion -- constituted illegal acts of intimidation and coercion. The NLRB has required Yale to give back-pay to teaching assistants who lost their jobs and post "Notices to Employees" throughout campus. The signs will state that it is illegal for the university to fire, demote, expel or threaten graduate teachers engaged in strike actions. Yale administrators now have the opportunity to comply voluntarily with the NLRB's requests before facing formal proceedings, said Gordon Lafer, research director for Yale's Federation of University Employees. "Universities across the country have come to rely more and more on both teaching assistants and adjunct professors as part-time workers carrying out more and more of the teaching responsibilities," Yale Professor David Montgomery said at a press conference Tuesday. "This decision puts the protection of the law securely behind their efforts to improve their conditions, and that should improve the security of everyone in academe." Yale graduate students went on strike last fall to protest the administration's refusal to recognize them as regular university employees and to grant the Graduate Employees and Students Organization union status. The TAs withheld grades in their classes for more than a month before Yale administrators began taking disciplinary action. Faced with the administration's measures, the TAs ended the strike. The NLRB's action might now pave the way for unionization drives at other schools -- especially private universities that don't already have TA unions, Lafer said. "All the unions have been at state schools, where state law requires them," Lafer said. "But if you're at a private school, such as Penn, you're governed by the NLRB. Their action will create a national precedent for TAs at private schools to unionize." Several graduate students at Tuesday's press conference said the NLRB's action will serve as an impetus for unionization and will inevitably improve TAs' working conditions. For the past five years, Yale's GESO, which represents about 25 percent of the Yale graduate student body, has demanded higher stipends and lower health insurance costs for TAs, in addition to unionization. "Yale's threats scared many teachers last year," said Chris Cobb, an English TA who was fired for participating in last year's strike. "Now, whatever individual graduate students feel about unionization, they will be able to make this decision based on their personal conviction rather than their fear of coercion."

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