During the last protracted Yale labor strike, the Omni Hotel’s grand ballroom served as neutral ground for the negotiations between the University and its labor unions. The room was again used to discuss labor concerns Monday, when more than 120 union members, graduate students and guest speakers met to voice their concerns that the University discriminates against minority employees, faculty hires and graduate students.
After reflecting on the spirit and values of Martin Luther King Jr., New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and seven labor leaders spoke on behalf of UNITE HERE locals 34 and 35, SEIU Local 1199 and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization. Coalition leaders said they will continue to push for an open forum with top Yale officials to discuss University recruitment and employment practices. But University administrators said they already have a forum for such concerns and are committed to increasing diversity at Yale.
Recent attempts to force the issue with Yale administrators — including a protest in Provost Andrew Hamilton’s office last week — are only the beginning of a campaign for an open forum on diversity, said Bob Proto, the president of Local 35 and the Greater New Haven Labor Council. Proto called on the unions and graduate teachers to present a unified front.
“As hard as everyone’s working, we need to work harder,” Proto said. “We need to push Yale in taking the lead on diversity.”
But Yale President Richard Levin said the University has long been dedicated to increasing campus diversity.
“We have an appropriate forum for discussing diversity in the graduate school,” Levin said. “That would be the Graduate Student Assembly, and the Graduate Executive Committee, on which graduate students sit. Diversity has been a major issue dealt with by both of those bodies, and we’ve created an office for diversity at the graduate school that has been very active and very effective.”
Levin said Locals 34 and 35 were invited to a meeting with key Yale administrators, but Proto said the unions would not agree to a meeting without representatives from Local 1199 and GESO which is not recognized as a union by the University. Levin said the University is mindful of the coalition’s concerns regarding diversity, but he said he “sees no reason” to deal with GESO or Local 1199.
“They don’t represent anyone at Yale,” Levin said. “1199 has nothing to do with the University — GESO is now entering its 16th year of attempting to organize our graduate students and they have not succeeded. They do not represent Yale graduate students.”
Some strike veterans argued that GESO representatives had earned the right to be recognized by the University.
“This is how I came to learn about democracy, on the streets of New Haven,” GESO organizer Gahodery Rodriguez GRD ’06 said. “Yale is directly responsible to its graduate workers and the community. We are here because we believe that the principles that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. laid out 40 years ago are not dead. They are alive.”
As New Haven’s largest employer, Yale’s commitment to equal rights and equal access for its hires are an implicit concern for the city as a whole, DeStefano said.
“Your struggle is New Haven’s struggle,” DeStefano said. “[But] this is in Yale’s interest.”
Coalition leaders and guest speakers said Yale’s preeminent position among universities allows it to set the tone for diversity, and Proto said they will continue to fight for an open forum with the University’s administration.