Nearly 800 union members and supporters locked arms and blocked access to College Street yesterday afternoon as part of a planned act of civil disobedience. Union supporters wearing “Stand up for change at Yale” signs lined the street as the demonstrators defied police warnings and were eventually arrested for creating a public disturbance.
The disobedience, held as Yale and its two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, negotiate for contracts, was the first major action since union members authorized leaders to call strikes and other job actions earlier this month. Negotiations have foundered in recent months and union leaders have been planning a day of mass action since the summer. Union leaders have indicated that they are planning a three-day walkout this fall if negotiations do not improve, but have declined to say when this action would occur.
Yale President Richard Levin said the demonstration would not affect negotiations and that the University remained committed to settling contracts.
“We remain ready to sit down and negotiate a contract for locals 34 and 35 as soon as they’re ready to sit down and do that,” Levin said. “If they’d like to come out off the street and take the negotiations seriously, we’re prepared.”
Union leaders said they planned the disobedience to show how much support the unions have. Leaders arranged the event with New Haven Police beforehand, submitting cards with personal information from all of the demonstrators who would be arrested. Police used the cards to fill out citations before the event, which they handed out in an orderly fashion after the demonstration was broken up.
The event kicked off around 5 p.m., as witnesses arrived on the New Haven Green and at Phelps Gate. Participants who planned to be arrested gathered at the Center Church on the Green, where Lula White, a former Freedom Rider, told a standing-room-only crowd about committing civil disobedience in the 1960s.
Officers of the unions, clergy members and area politicians led the procession from the church to College Street. A group of union members, graduate students, hospital workers and New Haven residents followed. About 60 undergraduates also participated in the civil disobedience.
Carmella Dandio, a Local 34 member who said she is still “fighting Yale” after 22 years, said she was proud to be arrested.
“The only power I have over Yale University is to embarrass them,” Dandio said as she marched onto College Street.
Participants marched two by two through the Green to the street before standing back to back and joining hands in a human chain stretching from Phelps Gate to slightly north of Elm Street.
After a brief sound-check, a police officer announced through loudspeakers set up along the street that demonstrators were creating a public disturbance and asked them to step out of the street. He repeated the warning three times and then announced that everyone still standing in the street was under arrest, eliciting cheers from witnesses and other union supporters on the sidewalks.
“You are now under arrest for creating a public disturbance,” the officer said over the loudspeaker. Demonstrators were instructed not to move until they could be escorted to the Green, where police officers had set up tables to distribute prewritten citations, arranged in several lines divided by last name.
Witnesses to the event included union members, students and local residents. Each participant was fined $88 and issued a court date.
Art Murgo, a Local 35 member and 25-year employee at Yale, said he came out to show support for the unions.
“We get what we get the way we always got it — fighting for it,” he said.
Not everyone who came to witness the event favored the union position.
Holding a sign that said “Stop Unions,” Nathanael McCurley GRD ’05 said he did not support the principles of the demonstration.
“It’s not civil disobedience against an unlawful law as it was with Martin Luther King Jr.,” McCurley said. “[This is] for the purpose of manipulation.”
The demonstrators left College Street in groups, led by police. Many demonstrators said they were not nervous but proud to be arrested.
“I really am for this 110 percent,” Local 35 member Margaret Nelson said. “We need this. We are Yale.”
–Staff Reporter Naomi Massave contributed to this story.