GESO, union members rally for benefits

Police arrested more than 100 female students and unionized workers Wednesday evening at a demonstration in which protesters challenged the University to expand childcare and healthcare benefits for women.

The rally, organized chiefly by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, drew about 500 candle-holding activists to the Women’s Table on Cross Campus. This action was the largest labor protest on campus since Yale’s unions settled contracts with the University on Sept. 18 after a three-week strike.

Local 34 President Laura Smith, newly-elected GESO Chairwoman Mary Reynolds GRD ’07 and award-winning columnist and author Barbara Ehrenreich were among those arrested by New Haven Police on Elm Street. Police captain Stephen Verrelli said the arrestees would be released within hours from police custody without bail.

At the rally, Ehrenreich called the University’s position against unionization at the Graduate School a “scandal.” She said Yale specializes in teaching “elitism” and “greed” and asked the University to be an “educational institution with a conscience.”

“They say that these labor issues have nothing to do with education,” Ehrenreich said, standing on top of the Women’s Table. “They say they teach math here, but they can’t figure out that $10 an hour is not enough to live in this city where the minimum living wage is $17 an hour. Now that’s not higher mathematics.”

At the demonstration, which blocked traffic throughout central campus, police escorted the arrestees one-by-one into three prison buses and a small conversion van before taking them to the downtown station.

The rally followed a GESO membership meeting where the group elected Reynolds to replace former chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05, who stepped down after two years leading the group.

Smith said despite having settled contracts with the University three months ago, her union will continue to stand behind GESO as it seeks union recognition and issues reform from Yale’s administration.

“We’re proud to be standing here with GESO,” Smith said. “I expect to work hand and hand with Mary [Reynolds].”

Reynolds said at the rally that “the game is rigged” at Yale, putting women at a disadvantage in jockeying for faculty positions and competing for resources. She said the University is “hiding” behind rhetoric.

Yale officials have long advised graduate students to voice their concerns through elected representative bodies such as the Graduate Students Assembly. Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey said this action will not change the University’s position on graduate student unionization.

Behind a banner that read “A woman’s place is in her union,” hundreds of graduate students marched for recognition, repeating slogans used frequently during the September strike, such as, “We’re fired up, can’t take no more.”

Many students leaned out of upper-floor windows in Lanman-Wright Hall and Saybrook, Trumbull and Berkeley Colleges to watch demonstrators form a woman symbol in the intersection of High and Elm streets. The protestors who entered the street were arrested for disorderly conduct.

In Lanman-Wright, some students blared Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way” from a speaker system in an upper-floor window in an effort to silence the protesters. But the demonstrators continued to chant “Ain’t no power like women power.”

Towanna Marks, 34, a registrar at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said there is “definitely a lot of unfinished business” between the University and its unions.

“Right now the hospital has at least 70 women struggling for a union, and we’re trying to get the hospital to realize that we can’t survive the way we want to,” Marks said. “Why can’t we get what the rest gets?”

Reynolds said Wednesday’s action was GESO’s largest event since last spring, when graduate students narrowly voted against unionization. GESO has been trying to organize a teaching and research assistant union for nearly 14 years.

Unionized workers and members of the Graduate Students and Employees Organization form a woman symbol in the intersection of High and Elm streets at a rally Wednesday night. Demonstrators, 100 of whom were arrested, challenged the University to expand childcare and healthcare benefits for women.
Smita Gopisetty
Unionized workers and members of the Graduate Students and Employees Organization form a woman symbol in the intersection of High and Elm streets at a rally Wednesday night. Demonstrators, 100 of whom were arrested, challenged the University to expand childcare and healthcare benefits for women.

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