I’ve spent the past two days in a state of suspended animation. Every time the phone rang, I’d answer it expectantly, hoping someone would tell me the strike was over. Yet, all through today I’d dismissed rumors of a possible settlement. I’d seen negotiations breakdown too many times to get my hopes up. The rumors were vague, and the issues to be settled remained wide. It seemed quite possible that the University’s negotiating team would decide to stonewall. Around campus, students were convinced the strike was about to be over, but friends had been calling my cell phone since early September to confirm rumors that a deal had been brokered.
Ironically, I was in the midst of a discussion about the 1996 strike when I first heard the news. A group had gathered to watch a movie about that strike made as a senior project for American studies. The documentary, “The Subtext of a Yale Education,” is honestly not very good, but the movie reinforced my fears that the 2003 strike would last indefinitely. The images of rallies, protests and picketers seemed not to have changed in seven years, and neither had the University’s rhetoric. What, I wondered as I watched the film, had changed about the negotiation process this time around?
As we began discussing the details of the 1996 contract, someone ran up to the door and began banging. I worried someone had been hurt. As we opened the door, my friend Srikanth rushed in with a copy of the Yale Daily News special edition. “Strike settled” ran the headline.
To be honest, when I first looked at the paper, I thought it was a prank. The news seemed too good too be true. As someone read the story aloud, I sighed, not quite sure whether I was euphoric or merely relieved. I was afraid to get my hopes up, and even if the contract had been settled, I still didn’t know any of the details. I raced through my cell phone book, dialing numbers, hoping someone had more information, but the News seemed to have a scoop. No one could confirm anything.
At City Hall, a crowd of undergraduates had begun together. Undergrads were among the first people to hear news of the press conference since the special edition of the News had been distributed almost exclusively to us. We greeted each other with a cautious excitement, afraid that we were going to be disappointed. We worried that the rumors were false, that the negotiations had broken down at the last minute. As officials filed in, we watched anxiously.
Finally, about a quarter after seven, the press conference began, and when Mayor DeStefano announced the brokered agreement, we exploded in applause. Of course, my excitement is not without some reservation. No one of us will know the details of the contract until after the union workers are given a chance to vote on the proposals.
These past three weeks have not been good for anyone. Our workers have gone without paychecks. Our dining halls have been closed. First-years have not had the opportunity to get to know the union workers who make the University run and make our lives better. The New Haven community and the campus have community have both suffered. And I’m so glad that the strikes seem to have ended.
I’m looking forward to seeing Rose and Lydia (my master’s and dean’s assistants) at work on Monday. I look forward to seeing a fully functioning Yale, but I hope the settlement of this contract doesn’t mean that things go straight back to business as usual.
There is still much work that needs to be done to improve trust between Yale and its work force. The strike has strained town-gown relations, and it will take time for trust to rebuild. Meaningful change requires both effort and patience. I sincerely hope that the contract that was ironed out over the last few days can provides a start to this process.
Erin Scharff is a senior in Pierson College.