With talk of fall strikes by Yale’s unions growing daily, more than 70 students attended a teach-in on labor issues Thursday night, presented by an undergraduate group connected with the .unions.
Last night’s teach-in featured a member of the Local 34 bargaining team, a GESO member, a community organizer, and students working with the unions. Each presented a separate angle in the efforts of Yale’s unions in negotiating contracts with Yale, graduate students trying to organize, and students and community members trying to change Yale’s relationship with the city.
The teach-in was held as negotiations for new contracts between Yale and its two largest unions continue amid increasing tensions. Union leaders are planning a day of civil disobedience Sept. 25, with plans to block traffic on a nearby street and get arrested. Leaders have also said they are considering a three-day walkout in October, and during the teach-in Thursday night, Graduate Employees and Students Organization organizer J.J. Fueser GRD ’03 said teaching assistants would participate in any such action.
Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said that since University representatives were not invited, the event was more a rally than a true teach-in.
But Zachary Schwartz-Weinstein ’04, who moderated the teach-in, said the University had already expressed its side in Yale President Richard Levin’s letter last month to the faculty, staff and students, and that the event was designed to present the other side to students.
“We didn’t feel the need to invite them because they’ve made their position quiet clear,” Schwartz-Weinstein said.
The panelists began their remarks after students listed their questions. Many students asked about the differences between the two sides in negotiations, and how a strike would affect undergraduates.
Tony Lopes, an autopsy technician and a member of the Local 34 bargaining team, said Yale workers received nearly “slave labor wages,” and that many had to take second jobs to pay their rent. He said he took particular offense to Levin’s letter, which criticized union leaders for delaying negotiations.
“What they expect us to do is be happy because our paycheck says Yale on it,” Lopes said. “That doesn’t pay our bills.”
Some students asked how a strike would affect them. Lopes said things can get “pretty interesting.”
“Although in a perfect world a strike would shut everything down, you don’t shut down something that has more money than some countries,” Lopes said.
Dan Smokler ’01, a community organizer for the union-affiliated Connecticut Center for a New Economy, called a strike a “huge opportunity,” and said students would be faced with a choice.
It can be a time when people complain about not being able to eat in dining halls or receive grades from TAs, Smokler said, or a time to reimagine how the University should work.