In a show of support for Yale’s striking workers, approximately 1,500 union members from around the state rallied Monday on central campus, leading to the arrests of 19 union supporters.
Carrying noisemakers and chanting “No contracts — no work, no peace,” the workers marched down Dixwell Avenue to Elm Street at 9 a.m. to hear speeches from union and community leaders. When the demonstration concluded at around 11:30 a.m., union supporters — including the Rev. Jesse Jackson — were arrested for blocking the intersection of Elm and College streets, police said.
The event marked the sixth day of a walkout by members of locals 34 and 35, which represent Yale’s clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers. Unionized workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital are also taking part in the strike, which began Aug. 27, the day dorms opened to upperclassmen.
In the past week, union members have picketed almost daily and rallied with Democratic presidential hopefuls Sen. Joseph Lieberman ’64 LAW ’67 and Howard Dean ’71.
Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said he hoped the candidates’ efforts to understand the labor dispute would help them realize the fairness of Yale’s proposals.
“To the degree that these events draw attention to negotiations, we feel that the quality of our offer will prompt people to conclude that Yale is being reasonable,” Conroy said.
Led by union and community leaders, a procession of union supporters emerged on Elm Street to the applause and chants of fellow workers.
The Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93, the local minister who staged a campaign last year for a seat on the Yale Corporation, opened the series of speakers with a prayer.
“Bless this gathering with all the power to turn this institution away from wickedness to do what is right,” Lee said.
Following Lee’s speech, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said he hoped the community would join together to achieve justice for workers.
A number of prominent union leaders — including Service Employees International Union President Andrew Stern; Connecticut AFL-CIO President John Olsen; and John Wilhelm ’67, the president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union — then thanked union members for gathering to support workers’ rights.
Jackson, who has been a presence on picket lines and at demonstrations since the strike began last week, capped off the speeches with a talk that linked the struggles of union members to slavery, war in Iraq and problems in the federal government.
“Save the workers, save the families,” he said, repeating his words. “Put America back to work. Keep hope alive.”
At the end of his speech, Jackson asked anyone who was willing to be arrested in support of the unions to form a line. About 35 union supporters, including Jackson, then huddled in a circle and sat down to block traffic between Elm and College streets.
After three warnings from police, some of the protesters were arrested and cited for disorderly conduct.
Sergeant Greg Katania said those arrested were given summonses to appear in court before being released.
Union members expressed frustration over being on strike but defended leaders who urged them to persevere for better contracts.
Local 34 member Anne Richardson said she was “tired and angry” to be standing on picket lines instead of working.
“A lot of times when our contract is up and it’s time to renew, we’re in a bad economy, and Yale takes advantage of that,” she said. “But I think in the end we will win — if anyone can win in a strike.”
Larry Graham — a member of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents 160 dietary workers at the hospital — said being on strike has been tough for his family.
“Sometimes you have to make a sacrifice,” he said. “I have grandchildren — this is for their future.”
District 1199, which is closely tied to locals 34 and 35, is currently negotiating a new contract for the dietary workers and is also trying to organize 1,800 other workers at the hospital.
Erin Pettigrew ’05 — who watched Jackson speak from her Calhoun College room — said she was not disturbed by the union’s demonstrations, even though the noise has woken her the past few days.
“I guess if we were in the midst of classes, it might be annoying,” she said. “But I understand what they’re trying to do.”
The University and its unions have a contentious history of labor relations — the strike represents the ninth job action in the last 11 rounds of negotiations and the second this year. Members of locals 34 and 35 staged a one-week walkout alongside some graduate students and unionized hospital workers in March.
Yale and union negotiators have scheduled another bargaining session for Wednesday. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who attempted to help the two sides broker a settlement the day before the strike began, will participate in the meeting, leaders said.