Union rally supports arrestees

Approximately 40 union supporters stood in front of the state courthouse Friday morning in a show of support for two graduate student researchers, who were arrested last month outside Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Rosa De Filippis GRD ’02 and Fran Balamuth MED ’03, along with six members of Local 34, were arrested by Yale-New Haven Hospital police while distributing pro-union leaflets last month. The researchers appeared in court Friday at 9 a.m. on charges of second-degree criminal trespass.

Union leaders said they believed the arrests were meant to scare potential union supporters. Hospital officials said the workers were arrested because they were blocking entrances.

Union supporters have focused on the arrests as an issue of free speech. Union leaders have said they will fight all charges against the workers and graduate students.

Balamuth said her understanding after the court appearance is that the next round of deliberation on the case will be settled under mediation out of court.

Many of the people at the rally belong to the Graduate Employees and Students Organization. GESO has been trying to form a teaching assistant union for more than a decade.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy declined to comment on the event. In the past, Yale leaders have said they had nothing to do with the arrests at the hospital because the hospital is a separate institution.

GESO chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 began by thanking the crowd, which stood on the steps of the courthouse for half an hour before De Filippis and Balamuth’s court appointment.

“We’re here this morning because there’s a crisis of free speech and free association at the University,” Seth said.

De Filippis said she believed her arrest was unfair.

“Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are the most important rights we have in this country,” she said.

Balamuth said she appreciated the fact that so many people had come out to show support. Yale President Richard Levin should address the issue, she added.

“I hope that [Levin] will stand side by side with the graduate students as he’s said he will do,” she said.

Alek Felstiner ’04, one of the two undergraduates who was stopped by Yale police while distributing labor-related leaflets at a Parents’ Weekend panel, said he has gotten a new perspective on the University over the last one and a half months.

“Some of the people I entrust when I’m sick — or seeking recommendations are not getting enough respect,” he said.

Susan Lin LAW ’04 told the audience that she believes the arrests are part of a trend of coercion and intimidation by the University.

“These arrests are not isolated incidents,” Lin said. “This raises serious First Amendment concerns.”

A number of GESO members said they came to the courthouse to show support for their fellow graduate students and for the right to free speech.

Rachel Oberter GRD ’06 said she believes that the University must offer an explanation for the arrests.

“They’re trying to pretend they’re cooperating with us, but this is a real sign that they’re not cooperating,” she said. “They’re trying to intimidate us. They want us to stop organizing. But we’re not going to be intimidated.”

GESO leaders said last month that the organization’s members may strike this fall if the University does not hold discussions with them. The effort to unionize graduate students has been a major obstacle in Yale’s ongoing contract negotiations with its two largest unions, locals 34 and 35. The unions are also supporting the efforts of some Yale-New Haven Hospital workers to join a union.

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