Hundreds of striking workers from locals 34 and 35 marched on the Yale-New Haven Medical Center Friday morning in an expression of solidarity with the approximately 150 dietary workers of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, who are also currently on strike.
The march capped off last week’s demonstrations in the unions’ ongoing strike. Picketing will continue today with an 11 a.m. demonstration outside William L. Harkness Hall. After bargaining sessions with New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. last week, negotiators from Yale and locals 34 and 35 –which represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers — do not have any bargaining sessions planned this week, union spokesman Bill Meyerson said.
Though 1199 negotiations are separate from those of locals 34 and 35, Duane Mellor, a member of Local 34, said strikers view the efforts of all three unions as part of the same struggle to win more concessions from the University.
“This is a big deal for us,” Mellor said. “[District 1199 is] a small group, but they are very important to our union and we want to get them a contract as well –1199 represents the fight.”
District 1199 has been negotiating a new contract with the hospital but have not held major talks since last month, said hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss. She said she hoped talks would continue soon and stressed that the hospital is separate from the University.
Though Krauss said the hospital respects the right of workers to strike, she said the union solidarity exhibited Friday might have a negative impact on District 1199′s contract negotiations.
“The problem is that  wanted a contract to mirror that of Yale University employees,” Krauss said. “You can’t compare the hospital with the University. They are two very different organizations.”
“We are really the tail of the dog,” Krauss said. “Locals 34 and 35 are really calling the shots.”
Unlike on the University campus, services at the hospital have been unaffected by the strike, Krauss said. Krauss said some of the hospital’s other, non-unionized employees have agreed to fill in the gaps left by the strikers.
Airhorns and megaphones blared as the march moved down College Street and wove through the hospital. Demonstrators paused outside the building for a vocal rally that was aided by bongo drums and loud chants.
Hospital workers who were demonstrating joined the march as it passed. After looping around the hospital, the marchers began dispersing. The march lasted about an hour and a half.
For Mark Wilson, a Local 35 picket captain, the march was less about volume than symbolism.
“We are just coming to walk on the line for  for a minute to say, ‘Hey, it’s OK, we’re doing it too and standing strong. And let’s keep going until somebody actually wants to come and sit down and come to some fair agreements with us.’”
After nearly two weeks on strike, few workers voiced concerns that continued reliance on limited strike pay would erode the resolve of the strikers. Despite the vocal turnouts for rallies and union demonstrations, Mellor said mounting financial pressure could take its toll if the unions were to reduce the vigor of their demonstrations.
“People go home over the weekend and they can sit there and think, ‘Jeez, I am totally broke and my family members are telling me I’m an idiot for staying out on strike,’” Mellor said. “[The march] helps us get through the weekend — Yes, we’re suffering but we feel we’re right and we have each other.”