Another group has joined in the struggle for better relations with Yale. In addition to union workers, graduate students, and hospital workers, New Haven’s Latino community has brought its own frustrations to the table.
Union spokesman Bill Meyerson said it was Latino community leaders who organized Monday’s rally with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Among the Latino religious leaders present were the Rev. Abraham Marsach and the Rev. Abraham Hernandez.
Although the unions and other groups actively supported the cause, Meyerson said New Haven’s Latinos were at the core of the rally.
The Latino community is seeking higher employment rates from Yale, as well as an extension of the University’s homebuyer program. Yale currently provides University employees with $25,000 over a 10-year period toward buying homes in specific areas near campus. Many Latinos want this policy to extend to the Fair Haven neighborhood.
Daniel Smokler, a community organizer for Connecticut Center for a New Economy, works in Fair Haven. Smokler said the percentage of Latinos who are employed by Yale — from the lowest paid positions to faculty and administration — is roughly 4 percent.
Smokler said that according to the 2000 Census, 21.4 percent of New Haven’s population is Latino, adding that the actual number is probably one or two percentages higher, due to undocumented workers.
In the last decade, New Haven has seen a surge in its Latino population. Father William Burbank, from New Haven’s Santa Rosa de Lima church, said the number of the city’s Latinos has risen by 67 percent in the last 10 years, and continues to grow.
The majority of the latest wave of immigrants has come from Central and Latin American countries, where the economies suffer, Burbank said.
He said most Latinos live in the Hill and Fair Haven neighborhoods because they cannot afford to live anywhere else.
Burbank said Fair Haven has always been the residence of many immigrants. He described a cyclical pattern that started with Irish immigrants roughly 100 years ago, in which immigrants would come to the neighborhood, work their way toward prosperity, and move out. Burbank said the job search for current Fair Haven residents naturally includes Yale because it is the city’s largest employer.
Kica Matos, executive director of Junta for Progressive Action, New Haven’s oldest Latino nonprofit agency, said Yale does not have a strong presence in Fair Haven. Junta offers a program to help people find jobs, but Matos said that when the program has tried to secure employment for Latinos at Yale, the reaction has usually been quite negative.
Last year, Matos said Junta approached Yale’s human resources department and suggested setting up a partnership.
“Their response was less than enthusiastic — we were basically told that Yale already had a partnership with Gateway Community College,” Matos said in an e-mail.
Based on the feedback he has received from the Latino community, Smokler said there is “overwhelming anecdotal evidence” from Latinos who have applied to work for Yale, and have either met with difficulty in their attempts or have been denied employment.
Smokler said groups of Hispanic leaders were brought into the negotiating room for the Local 34 and 35 contract negotiations. The unions proposed a committee, composed of members of the unions, University and community, to create access programs to desegregate Yale. He said Yale refused.
Ariel Martinez, a local Hispanic resident and member of the Door of Salvation Church in the Hill, said he does not understand why it would be difficult for Yale to hire more Hispanics. But once this problem can be understood and addressed, he said he thinks the community can reach a solution.
“When you brush everything away, to me that’s the core issue,” he said.
Patricia McCann-Vissepo, executive director of New Haven’s Casa Otonal, a prominent community service agency in the Hispanic community, described a more favorable impression of Yale. McCann-Vissepo said the Casa has a history of good relations with the University, and Yale students have often worked there.
McCann-Vissepo said she thinks Yale is willing to listen to people if they ask for resources the University can provide.
“If it’s something they can give, they’re happy to do it,” she said.
Some people have questioned the unions’ motives for embracing the Latino community in their struggle for a social contract with Yale. But Burbank refuted the notion that the Latinos have been swept into a cause that is not fully their own.
“My feeling was that the initiative did not come from the unions,” he said. “They found a welcome audience.”
Burbank said he sees the partnership between the unions and the Latinos in a positive light. He does not believe the unions are using his community, but said that even if that were the case, their efforts are assisting the Latinos in developing leadership skills.
Bill Meyerson similarly refuted the notion that the unions are using the Latinos for their own causes.
“It’s not so much that [Latinos] are active to support the strikers — which they do — but they are raising their own demands that both intersect and overlap with the concerns of the workers,” he said.
Meyerson then referred to the large Latino presence at Monday’s rally.
“You don’t get that kind of participation from community residents for someone else — especially in zero degree weather,” he said.