Unions plan mass civil disobedience

In an event organizers have likened to the protests of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi, more than 700 union members and supporters plan to block traffic today at the intersection of College and Elm streets as part of a planned act of civil disobedience.

Participants will walk into the street around 5:45 p.m. and then receive citations from police officers and likely be charged with creating a public disturbance, union leaders said.

The planned civil disobedience, similar to several actions held during past negotiations, reflects a return to the traditionally hostile relations between Yale and locals 34 and 35, its two largest unions. The two sides began bargaining for new contracts for nearly 4,000 Yale workers in February, hoping to foster a friendlier relationship, but talks have deteriorated.

Today’s event also marks the first major union action since members authorized leaders to call strikes as they negotiate.

Union leaders said the civil disobedience is intended to show how much support the unions have.

“Like any action of this kind, it’s meant to help focus attention and raise questions about why so many people are participating and doing something that for them is extremely difficult and which they take very seriously,” union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said.

Union leaders said that mass actions were necessary to achieve progress at the bargaining table in previous negotiations. This time, union leaders have emphasized the unionization of Yale-New Haven Hospital workers and graduate students as a major goal of negotiations. But University leaders have said the organizing efforts of the two groups should not affect contract negotiations with locals 34 and 35, which represent clerical, technical, service, dining hall and maintenance workers.

Yale leaders said that the civil disobedience would not affect the University’s position in negotiations and that the University remains committed to settling contracts.

“Events away from the bargaining table are not going to affect Yale’s resolve,” Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said. “Something either furthers the negotiating process or it doesn’t, and it’s hard to show how this will because we’re already willing to negotiate and that’s already our focus.”

Participants will gather in Center Church on the Green beginning at 5 p.m. There will be brief speeches beginning at 5:30, including one by Lula White, a former Freedom Rider and teacher who spent several weeks in jail for civil disobedience in the 1960s.

Union leaders said they arranged the event with New Haven Police to avoid causing problems for officers. Union supporters who plan to be arrested were asked by union leaders to fill out cards with their names, addresses, dates of birth, and Social Security numbers to help expedite the process today.

Instead of transporting participants to jail or police stations, officers will issue citations on the spot to people in the street. Union leaders said they expect participants to be charged with creating a public disturbance, an infraction, or disorderly conduct, a class C misdemeanor.

Union and community leaders have made a major effort to get participants for the civil disobedience. Posters around campus have advertised the event as being in the spirit of King, and several information sessions have been held for students to explain the event.

Last night, about 35 students gathered in a circle on Cross Campus as the Rev. Scott Marks, a community leader involved with the unions, urged them to participate in the event.

“I have a dream that New Haven’s children and my children and the children I pastor can not only have a hope to come and clean the rooms at Yale but also have an opportunity to go to Yale,” Marks shouted.

In 1996, the last time Yale and the unions negotiated contracts, 137 graduate students, union members and professors were arrested during a protest outside the Hall of Graduate Studies.

In 1984, an especially tense negotiation year that included a 10-week strike and led to the formation of Local 34, union members were arrested while participating in a protest called Non-Violent Witness for Equality.

Comments