As workers picket, students adapt

This article has been corrected. You may view this article’s correction here.

Just after sunrise Monday morning, the usually quiet sidewalks lining Wall Street near Cross Campus became an assembling ground.

Members of locals 34 and 35 and students in the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, or GESO, met in the cold weather to begin a weeklong strike. Carrying signs with messages like “Economic Peace for Yale Workers,” approximately 200 to 300 striking workers converged on Beinecke Plaza later in the morning, chanting slogans such as “Beep, beep! Yale is cheap!” and “Two, four, six, eight, come on Yale — negotiate!”

But by 1:30 p.m., all that remained on the icy sidewalks were discarded “On Strike” posters and a large cardboard box containing several soggy, leftover sandwiches intended for the striking workers.

While the protesters on the picket lines were vocal and enthusiastic, students who expected to experience delays on the way to class said they felt underwhelmed by the strikers’ lack of presence on campus.

Elizabeth Adams ’04 said crossing picket lines to go to “Modern Russia” Monday morning was “anticlimactic.”

“It was actually less of a disturbance than I was expecting,” Adams said. “I was expecting to be hassled a little bit.”

Yaw Anim ’05 also said he was surprised that he did not encounter any strikers on the way to class.

“I thought I was going to cross a picket line going to SSS, but there wasn’t anything there,” Anim said.

At 9:30 a.m. outside Yale-New Haven Hospital, a crowd of approximately 30 strikers marched in a circle, chanting, “We’re freezin’! We’re freezin’! We’re freezin’ for a reason!” Terryl Parrilla, a food service worker at the hospital, said she supported the strike because workers deserve more.

“We want a decent contract,” she said. “Thirty-five years I’ve been here, and they treat us like crap.”

The strike underwent fits and spurts of intensity throughout the day. At high noon on the corner of College and Elm Streets, a local 35 member yelled “Raise hell!” at passing drivers, many of whom honked in support.

Carlton Phillips, a custodian at the Law School and a member of Local 35, maintained a more subdued presence on the same corner. Phillips, who has worked at the University for nine years, said he thinks Yale forces its workers to strike in order to extract favorable contracts.

“I think this is part of the deal with Yale,” Phillips said. “You have to fight for what you want.”

GESO members filled a sizable portion of the picket lines, voicing their demands for a graduate student union and supporting the labor efforts of locals 34 and 35.

“It’s important that we show our strength as a federation,” Judd Greenstein MUS ’04 said.

GESO picket captain Mary Reynolds GRD ’07, who said she has been involved with GESO since the day she arrived on campus, also braved the cold to stand on the picket lines. Reynolds said she is on an “intellectual strike.” While she is not a teaching assistant, she said she will not do reading or conduct research this week.

Many striking members of locals 34 and 35 said pensions were a central concern in the contract negotiations. James Beady, a Local 35 member who picketed on Wall Street Monday morning, said he thought Yale was taking advantage of the country’s current economic situation to deny union members certain benefits.

“You give the best years of your life to a place and you want to be equitably compensated for it,” Beady said. “It’s not like they can’t afford it.”

Economic considerations were on the minds of many undergraduates as well. After receiving incorrect information from some sources that they would receive $170 rebate checks for meal plans, students were surprised and dismayed when they opened their mailboxes to find checks for $89.48 for the 21-meal plan and $86.64 for the 14-meal plan.

“It seems fairly unreasonable,” Tom O’Donnell ’03 said. “I kind of resent being treated as a tool by the administration.”

Antoine Jumelle ’05 was also unhappy about the reimbursement amount. He said he and other students he knows did not think the money was sufficient to cover the week’s meals given the prices at area restaurants.

“I’m mad that there’s a strike and we’re going to suffer for it,” Jumelle said.

Despite the unexpected reimbursement amounts, students flocked to local eateries such as Au Bon Pain, Yorkside Pizza, and the newly-opened MexiCali Grille. While some students appreciated the higher-quality food local restaurants served and the chance to reconnect with off-campus friends, others lamented the lack of a central meeting place to eat with their friends.

“It’s a lot more lonely without the dining halls,” Molly Swartz ’06 said while waiting in line at Claire’s Corner Copia at 2 p.m. “You have to make definite plans to get food as opposed to just showing up at the dining hall.”

Shaw’s was another popular destination for hungry Yalies. Sensing a growing demand for groceries this week, the supermarket’s owner sponsored a shuttle service in conjunction with the Yale College Council, to help students stock up on staples. Shaw’s also opened up special Yale Express checkout lines.

While local commercial establishments made accommodations for the strike, changes were made on campus as well.

Commons, which continues to remain open during the strike, was not as crowded as usual. At 9:30 a.m., Director of Dining Services David Davidson said approximately 20 people had eaten breakfast there. He added that many students were likely eating bagels provided in their residential colleges.

Some classes were cancelled, while others were moved to off-campus locations including professors’ homes, New Haven City Hall and York Square Cinema.

Professor Robert Gordon, who teaches “American Legal History” and Law School classes, moved his undergraduate class to York Square as he did during the 1996 strike. Gordon said moving class was a “compromise solution” between forcing students to cross picket lines and canceling class altogether.

“Whatever the merits of this particular strike, the labor movement is generally entitled to respect and support,” Gordon said.

“Modern Russia” professor Laura Engelstein arrived to teach her class in Sudler Hall Monday morning accompanied by History chairman Jon Butler, but found the room locked. After trying to figure out where to get a key without any custodians in the building, the two professors saw Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead, but he, too, was unable to open the door. Class eventually began after a student used the side-entrance to gain entrance into the auditorium.

Despite such isolated incidents, most students found the strike relatively unimposing.

Valerie Barbon ’05 said she did not see why her “Twentieth Century Britain” class had to be moved eight blocks away from its usual location in the Whitney Humanities Center.

“It seems like everybody was making a huge fuss over this, and it really isn’t as inconvenient as everyone thought,” Barbon said. “I was out there today and nobody is stopping anyone from going to class.”



— Staff Reporters Emily Anthes, Jessamyn Blau, Paula Brady, Erin Donar, Jessica Feinstein, Dennis Hong, Philip Rucker, Katherine Stevens, Tom Sullivan, and Erica Youngstrom and contributing reporters Brian Murray and Stephanie Teng contributed to this article.

Comments