Accusing Yale of “cynical and disrespectful treatment” of Hispanic workers, 25 members of Congress sent a letter to Yale President Richard Levin Tuesday condemning the University’s hiring of Hispanic workers to replace striking Yale employees.
While Yale employs only a small percentage of Hispanic workers in union jobs with benefits, the letter said, the University’s contractors brought in “busloads” of Mexican, Nicaraguan and Puerto Rican replacement workers to do the work of striking janitors. The signatories, including Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, claimed this move could polarize New Haven’s minority community and “[set] the stage for a racially explosive situation.”
Levin said the letter’s argument was difficult to comprehend.
“I could not understand why they were complaining that we were using Hispanic workers as temporary workers,” he said. “We have been eager to expand our base of Hispanic employees in locals 34 and 35 and have been working with the community of New Haven to develop stronger connections so that more Hispanics will have the opportunity to work here as regular employees.”
Yale said it does not hire replacement workers directly. They are selected by the University’s outside contractors.
Levin said Yale’s growth undoubtedly will lead the University to create more custodial jobs and may create an opportunity for the University to recruit Hispanics to these positions.
“We take very seriously our responsibility to seek out qualified members of the minority community who are New Haven residents to work at Yale,” Levin said.
But Ward 7 Alderwoman Dolores Colon ’91 said the letter conveys a “very valid statement.” She said when qualified Hispanics from other countries come to Yale for jobs, they are often denied employment.
Last Friday, Colon said black Local 35 workers standing in front of Berkeley College became upset when buses full of mostly Hispanic replacement workers arrived.
“[The black workers] were incensed. They said, ‘Look, they’re bringing in Joses,’” Colon said. “[Yale is] polarizing the community in this city. It’s totally exploitative, it’s totally divisive, and it’s just downright corporate greed.”
A group of New Haven ministers also criticized the Hispanic hiring policy on Tuesday.
Jennifer Pena ’04, a Puerto Rican ethnic counselor at Yale, said it was “very unfair” for the University to hire such a high percentage of Hispanic replacement workers. She said the temporary Hispanic workers have expressed fear at the prospect of losing their jobs once the strike is over.
The letter said Yale’s short-term hiring actions may have potentially widespread repercussions for New Haven.
“We struggle to understand why such a great institution — would hire members of the minority community as strikebreakers without any consideration as to how this might threaten New Haven with racial division and conflict,” the letter said.
The letter ended with a call to action.
“We urge you in the strongest terms to find a way to mutual respect with Yale’s unionized work force that will lead to a settlement agreeable to both sides,” the letter said.
The representatives are not the first high-profile politicans to weigh in this fall on behalf of Yale’s unions. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.; former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat; and the Rev. Jesse Jackson have all visited Yale in recent weeks to back the strike.
–The Associated Press contributed to this story.