Strikebreakers walk out, welcomed by unions



Days after the University’s use of subcontracted Hispanic workers to replace striking employees incited controversy among some city and national leaders, 13 temporary replacement workers walked off the job and joined striking Yale employees on picket lines.

The 13 workers, who were hired to do custodial work by Sanitary Maintenance Services, Inc., were given a hero’s welcome at a union rally Saturday, a contrast from last week, when some picketers jeered the fill-in hires as they arrived at the University in buses. Some city leaders argued last week that the use of largely Hispanic temporary workers to cross picket lines of mostly black workers was designed to incite racial controversy in the city.

Some of the workers who quit said Yale subcontractors treated them badly and this contributed to their decision to leave. Yale Facilities Management Job Coordinator Kenneth Rowe could not be reached for comment.

At the rally, amid chants of “Si, se puede” — yes, it is possible — the new picketers stood together. They will receive $250 per week now, the standard picket pay. While working at Yale through the subcontractor, workers said they received $10.61 per hour.

Members of Yale’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, have been on strike since Aug. 27. Workers have picketed almost daily and rallied with prominent community leaders and politicians.

Gilbert Cintron, the first subcontracted worker to walk off the job Wednesday, said workers were given impossible tasks and told if they did not complete them, they would be fired.

Cintron said workers who joined the picket line last week went to the homes of temporary workers still working for Yale to persuade them to follow their example. Some employees listened and some did not, Cintron said. The temporary employees who quit their jobs organized a meeting Saturday afternoon for subcontracted workers considering quitting. But none of the approximately 30 other custodial strikebreakers attended the meeting.

Jorge Rivera, another subcontracted worker, said he quit immediately after Cintron on Wednesday. He said union leaders and Hispanic activists contacted him last week and convinced him to leave his job. Rivera said his reason for quitting stems from his desire to see more full-time employment opportunities for Hispanics at Yale.

“I say you’ve got to sacrifice a little to gain more,” Rivera said. “What we’re fighting for is for Yale to give a chance to the Latin American community.”

Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the unions are reaching out to — and paying — other groups of people to join them in their protest. She said the Hispanic workers’ decisions to quit reflected the unions’ desire to have as many picketers as possible.

“It is instructive since many of their own members chose to come to work rather than strike, the unions have resorted to paying others to join them on the strike line,” Klasky said in an e-mail.

But Rivera said he resented the way workers were treated by the subcontracting company.

“Two of my workers here were fired because they were taking a nap,” he said.

Rivera said he wants to work at Yale, but not according to the terms under which he was hired. He said he was not afraid to lose his temporary job because it would have dissolved once the strike ended.

“We ain’t got nothing to lose,” Rivera said.

Union spokesman Bill Meyerson said the unions want Yale to hire more Hispanic workers for regular jobs, not just to fill in during the strike.

“We want people to have regular full-time jobs at Yale,” Meyerson said, “not just to do dirty work.”

Yale President Richard Levin declined to comment on the workers who quit.

The workers who walked off their jobs said they will continue to speak with strikebreakers who are still working for Yale.

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