Just ask a worker: stories from the ground of shameful union tactics

For Christine Quinn, going to work is a daily battle. Last Thursday I encountered Chris on the corner of College and Wall streets as she made her way to Commons amidst striking workers calling her a “scab.” Chris normally swipes in the Berkeley College dining hall and is a recognizable and warm face for all who eat there.

Upon telling her that I was a journalist, Chris showed me a poster that she said had been taped onto a nearby street sign. On the poster was a blown-up photo of Chris, with the word, “SCAB” eerily scribbled next to her image in messy, red letters. “This got me nervous, this got me really upset,” she said.

As her voice quavered and her body shook, Chris recounted for me the harassment she has endured at the hands of the union leadership because she has exercised her right to work. According to Chris, one strike leader left a message on her answering machine stating that after the strike “Yale could get rid of me or someone could get rid of me.” Another union leader told her that, “If anyone walks through the line they’ll have bats out here.”

Chris recounted to me, and a picket captain confirmed, that union workers recently entered Commons en masse, purportedly to hand out flyers to students. But the obvious purpose of this event was more sinister: to find out who was crossing the line and send the signal that they would no longer do so under the cover of anonymity. Such are the tactics of Yale’s unions.

While Chris Quinn must put up with the hateful name-calling of picketers and threatening phone messages from union leaders, GESO activist Andrew Sackett GRD ’98 LAW ’05 ignores the aggressive tactics that his HERE colleagues routinely employ and instead invents a vicious straw man out of the Yale administration (“The rules according to Lorimer: Can Yale expel you for picketing?”, 9/9).

Last week, Sackett attacked Linda Lorimer for promulgating a policy that he claimed “[could] easily be read as a threat of firing or expulsion for participating in picketing.” This criticism stemmed from the University-wide e-mail that Lorimer sent on Sep. 5 warning those who would physically prevent students, faculty and other Yale personnel from entering University buildings, which is, of course, illegal. Lorimer went out of her way to praise picketing as an example of Yale’s open environment.

In her e-mail, whose title “Freedom of Expression” apparently eluded Sackett’s eye, Lorimer stated that, “While picketing and demonstrations can be uncomfortable and disconcerting, they are respected avenues of expression, and as such are a protected part of the fabric of the University.” So much for the Yale Gestapo.

But in case you didn’t get your dose of ivory tower whining from oppressed graduate students in these past two weeks, there was more. Recently, GESO president Anita Seth had the gall to accuse Yale of intimidating her band of activists, announcing that GESO was forming a committee of its own choosing to investigate its charges of harassment against the university.

Never mind that Seth expects the Yale community to respect the findings of a board she herself handpicked, including members such as former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich (irrefutably on the side of big labor). What’s more frustrating is that claims of intimidation are coming from the president of an organization notorious for the “Koffee Too?-team” and other forms of harassment.

Despite what the unions would have you believe, most of Yale’s work force is not on strike, a puzzling reality seeing that unions are supposed to represent their membership. I spoke to some of these nonstriking workers, and they expressed their indignation over the demands and tactics that the unions are employing.

On the heated issue of pensions, one nonstriking member of Local 34, Brenda (a pseudonym), raved to me about how Yale’s pension program is “free money — in the real world, not the Yale world, there’s no such thing as pensions anymore.” That is, most workers in America, if they are lucky enough to even have a pension plan, pay into it with their own earnings, like a 401k. Cindy (another pseudonym), also of Local 34, aptly remarked, “It’s almost like [the unions] think that Yale is Santa Claus and they’re a bunch of little brats.”

Cindy also lamented the very existence of Local 34. She opposed the creation of the union back in 1984 because it “encourages mediocrity — You don’t have to work hard because you’re just going to get the same thing as everyone else.” She added, “If it wasn’t for the union, I would be getting raises all along — Because of the union I am not rewarded for the hard work that I do. Yale is not able to pat me on the back — I think that the union has held me down.” As for the unions’ behavior towards workers who cross the picket line, Brenda labeled them as being reminiscent of “the strong-arm tactics of the ’50s and ’60s.”

Last Saturday’s union tent revival demonstrated that organized labor has decided to target Yale as part of a national political strategy. The heads of the country’s five largest unions descended upon New Haven for a public relations spectacle designed to forward the union gospel, “a crusade that goes way beyond this institution,” according to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, at the expense of Yale and its students. Jimmy Hoffa must have been smiling down upon the New Haven Green from the end zone of the Meadowlands, as HERE got the notorious Teamsters Local 25 to join in, perhaps to extort President Levin as they did the Boston film industry. New Haven Chief of Police Francisco Ortiz says that the strike has already cost the cash-strapped city $95,000 in overtime payments to police officers, money that could be funding schools, roads and public safety. Only when John Wilhelm finally decides that his posterior is better spent in the negotiating chair than on Elm Street will there ever be hope for a settlement.

As students, most of us do not have to face the verbal threats that workers like Chris Quinn have had to bear. Students are intentionally woken up early in the morning by striking workers. We’re lucky if we can go through a class without boisterous strikers trying to drown out our professors.

Last week I witnessed a striking worker, without any sense of impunity, walk up to an open window and blow an air horn into a WLH classroom. A friend recently told me that striking workers peer into the windows of his classroom in order to make sure that a class is being taught, and only then do they shout and bang pots and pans. Union leaders lied to us. They said that we were not the targets of this strike, but they have made us combatants in their war against Yale. It is long past time for us to fight back by standing with the administration and making it clear to John Wilhelm and his ilk that their political games will not stop us from going to class and getting our work done.

As Brenda said, if this were the real world, Yale’s striking workers would be thankful for the generous offer they are receiving and get back to work. But this is not the real world. Welcome to Planet Yale.



James Kirchick is a sophomore in Pierson College.

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