Unions draw support from politicians

While many Yale students have attempted to remain neutral during this week’s strikes, few New Haven politicians have kept silent on the labor dispute.

Many Democratic public officials have publicly expressed support for the unions — and some even joined workers in protests — while calling for an end to the labor dispute. At a rally Monday, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro marched to College Street with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and joined Jackson on the podium.

DeLauro, who spoke of her family’s working-class background, said at the rally that she hoped for cooperation between Yale and the New Haven community.

“We join together today to affirm a simple principle — that everyone in our community should have the right to organize, to be heard and respected by their employers and to earn a decent salary and benefits for their hard work,” DeLauro said. “On that principle, we all stand united.”

DeStefano, who also spoke at a rally Tuesday in support of union organizers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said the University’s long history of labor disputes created discord within the community.

“Frankly, it’s very discouraging to see this happen time after time,” he said. “From what I can see, the negotiations aren’t going anywhere particularly.”

DeStefano, who helped Yale and its unions reach a settlement to end a 1996 strike which lasted for two months, said he was unlikely to play a role in the current negotiations.

Both Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 and Sen. Chris Dodd — who issued a letter together in January supporting the organizing efforts of graduate students and hospital workers — called for a resolution to the labor disputes this week. In a letter to the community, Lieberman said he asked Yale President Richard Levin last week to work with labor and community leaders to reach a settlement.

“I strongly encouraged President Levin — to continue negotiations with union leaders and make every conceivable effort to reach a labor accord that avoids the impending strike and protects organizing rights for every Yale worker,” Lieberman wrote. “The workers at Yale must be afforded every opportunity to negotiate a fair labor contract.”

Through a spokeswoman, Dodd said he hopes the University and the unions will soon reach a fair and equitable resolution to the labor dispute.

“I strongly urge both sides to engage in a meaningful dialogue and redouble efforts aimed at finding common ground to end this strike,” Dodd said. “It is clearly in everyone’s interest to bring this to a conclusion.”

Democratic Town Committee chairwoman Suzie Voigt, a charter member of Local 34, said the unions have strong support from many Democrats in the city.

“The Democratic party is a big tent,” she said. “But I certainly think we are in a city where the tradition has been to be pro-labor. We’ve seen that kind of support from political folks, and I think that’s a reflection of the voters.”

Ward 1 Alderman Ben Healey ’04 said the union issue is a pivotal one for aldermen that could affect upcoming fall elections.

“I certainly think aldermen who have a lot of constituents who work at the University are going to take an active interest in trying to ensure that just contracts are settled,” he said. “Whether or not it will have ramifications for reelection, I can imagine wards where it would.”

The New Haven Board of Aldermen overwhelmingly passed a resolution Monday night calling on University and union officials to recommit to forging a better professional relationship.

State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, who supports the organizing drives of both graduate students and hospital workers, said his views on the strike are the result of a childhood in a union household.

“I saw firsthand growing up the benefits of a union contract in terms of the stability it brings to a family … and the strains that can be put on a family as a result of a strike,” said Looney, whose father was a union leader. “As these things tend to drag on, there’s always an increasing level of polarization and bitterness in the community. And it has a shockwave effect.”

State Rep. William Dyson, whose district includes much of Yale, said he was unwilling to blame either side. He expressed optimism for a resolution that incorporated the wishes of both sides.

“If they would just sit down and talk about it, I assume that sensible people will resolve their differences,” he said. “I’m not in the business of casting aspersions at anyone, but I know the climate of this town is going to be impacted if we don’t bring a resolution to this.”

Despite Yale’s record of difficult contract negotiations with its workers, Dyson complimented the University for its commitment to New Haven and said the labor dispute was representative of problems afflicting the national economy.

“The one entity in this town that has not laid off people is Yale, so you have to put that in the total scheme of things,” Dyson said.

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