Crossing picket line makes for hard work



Last March, as locals 34 and 35 were in the middle of a weeklong walkout, striking workers paraded down the street, shouting the chants that have now become standard background noise at Yale. But at one point, a more personal message was blasted through the megaphone, as strikers chanted a man’s name and sung a derisive song to the tune of Frere Jacques.

“Where are you, where are you, why are you inside, taking a free ride, run and hide, run and hide,” a striker said. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

The cry was directed at a non-striking Local 34 member inside, who continued his clerical work as his coworkers rallied. For that worker, and for the hundreds of other members of locals 34 and 35 who choose not to strike, the decision is a difficult one, in which economic stability, job security, and the friendship and welfare of coworkers and supervisors lie in jeopardy.

The man has continued to come to work, despite the chants of his coworkers. But he has intentionally avoided the picket lines each day when he arrives at work.

“Who needs trouble?” he asked.

Just how many workers have stayed on the job depends on who you ask. Last week, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said just 36 percent of Local 34 and 92 percent of Local 35 were on strike. Local 35 President Bob Proto said 60 percent of Local 34 and 98 to 99 percent of Local 35 are participating in the strike. But even by Proto’s conservative estimates, over 1,000 union members — the University’s clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers — did not join their coworkers on the picket lines.

Despite the large number, it is nearly impossible to find a non-striking worker who is willing to speak on the subject. Those who did agree to speak did so only on condition of anonymity, for fear of alienating their striking co-workers.

“In the last strike, people wrote letters [to the Yale Daily News] and they were hated for what they said,” a 34 member said.

The frequency of contact between non-striking workers and their coworkers on strike differs. Some have not been approached at all. Others have received calls and e-mails from their striking friends, expressing disappointment.

Reasons for staying at work also vary. Several 34 members said they chose not to strike simply because they believe the unions’ position is wrong.

“I thought that Yale offered a fair contract in August,” one said.

Another worker, who belonged to Local 34, said she thought the second strike was solely to advance the career of John Wilhelm ’67, the general president of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees International Union. She resigned the union two days before the strike, deciding that she could not stay in Local 34 and keep working.

But not all of the workers who stayed on the job support the University’s position on labor.

“It has nothing to do with Yale,” a Local 34 clerical worker said. “But I simply can’t afford to go without money.”

For those who decide to go on strike, the economic situation is undeniably harsh. Even with the $100 increase in weekly pay union leaders announced Tuesday, each union member is only given $250 a week, less than double the weekly checks most Yale students receive to cover just their meals. The union check, however, must be stretched to cover food, mortgages, car payments, and all other expenses.

Beyond the loss of salary, other fears drive strikers to stay at work.

“I was very nervous about losing my health care,” a former union member said. “I have to worry about my family.”

Yale is legally allowed to revoke health care benefits from striking workers 30 days into a strike, Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said. No decision on whether to revoke the benefits has been made, she said.

Union leaders could not be reached for comment Wednesday night.

When the strike eventually ends, some non-striking workers fear, the relationship with those who walked the picket lines will be strained. Klasky said managers are being trained to deal with tension between workers who were on strike and those who did not.

“It will be hard when everyone comes back,” one non-striking worker said. “It will be hard to mend fences.”

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