Labor teach-in targets undergrads

Undergraduates, labor experts and union organizers spoke at a teach-in on labor issues in Linsly-Chittenden Hall before approximately 25 students Thursday night.

The discussion, planned by Julie Gonzales ’05, Will Tanzman ’04 and Josh Eidelson ’06, was designed to educate undergraduates who were curious about labor relations at Yale.

The panel included Local 35 chief steward Meg Riccio, American Studies professor Michael Denning, GESO chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05, labor organizer Dan Smokler ’01 and Local 34 member Tony Lopes.

The panel was the latest in a string of labor-related meetings designed to reach out to undergraduates.

Eidelsohn opened the teach-in by emphasizing the importance of labor issues at Yale.

“We’re here tonight because there’s a lot going on,” he said.

Many of the speakers addressed their reasons for getting arrested at the unions’ planned act of civil disobedience Sept. 25. The planned act of disobedience, in which participants blocked traffic on a two-block stretch of College Street, was held as Yale and its two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, negotiate contracts for nearly 4,000 Yale workers.

Riccio said she decided to get arrested largely because she is unhappy with the pensions that Yale currently offers. She said she is also disappointed that the University chose not to continue negotiations under Restructuring Associates Inc., the Washington, D.C.-based firm that facilitated discussions last spring.

“They don’t like anyone telling them how to run their labor relations,” Riccio said.

Lopes, who has worked at Yale for 11 years, said the decision to get arrested in support of the unions was easy.

“It was pretty much a no-brainer since the way that the union leadership does what it does best is by leading through example,” he said. “It is far more rewarding to be proactive and to go after what you know you deserve.”

Smokler said that he grew up in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the town and the University of Michigan had a good relationship. He added that when he was an undergraduate at Yale, he did not observe the same connection between the University and New Haven.

“What really got me was not how dismal things were — but that things could be so much better,” Smokler said.

Seth said she attended a small liberal arts college as an undergraduate and that student-faculty interaction was much different at her school.

“[At Yale] you don’t have enough contact with full-time faculty,” she said.

For this reason, she said, the University must recognize the large role that graduate students play as teaching and research assistants.

Denning said he believes the administration does not necessarily have the most comprehensive view of what is best for its workers.

“The unions really do have a very different vision of what the University will look like in the next century,” he said. “For me, it’s a more attractive vision.”

Gonzales, who spoke after the panelists, said she came to Yale as a freshman who did not know much about New Haven. She said her goal has been to learn more about the city and the people and that other undergraduates should try to do the same.

“We’re the best people who can change this place because we’re the undergraduates and we’re the ones who can work with the administration to do it,” she said.

Students who attended the teach-in said they found it helpful.

Susanne Kenagy ’06, who said she had never attended discussions about labor in the past, said Thursday’s “sparked an interest” in the subject.

“I feel like I know where to turn to find better resources,” she said. “I believe I will follow the issue more closely now.”

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