Commons protest draws students and workers

Dining hall workers and students expressed their support for the reopening of Commons for dinner hours.
Dining hall workers and students expressed their support for the reopening of Commons for dinner hours. Photo by Charlie Croom.


On Friday afternoon, more than 50students, dining hall workers and union organizers came together in the Woolsey Hall rotunda to speak out against the end of dinner hours in Commons.

Protesters gathered near the corner of College and Elm Streets at around 1:15 p.m.after word of the event had been spread through Facebook and leaflets distributed around campus. Varied in age and occupation, the protesters walked down Elm Street and into Woolsey Hall to express their support for the reintroduction of Commons dinner hours. Students and workers alike expressed their disapproval for the new system, as it has burdened staff as a result of overcrowding in the residential college dining halls and eliminated a unique social opportunity for students. .

Once in the rotunda, cheers of “Bring Back Commons!” punctuated the speeches of participants who voiced their complaints regarding the closure, which was announced at the end of last spring and implemented at the opening of this academic year., .

Bob Proto, president of UNITE HERE Local 35,the union representing Yale maintenance, food service and custodial workers,criticized the University’s “narrow-minded” decision to close Commons, stating that it has negatively impacted the positive social atmosphere Commons offers students and harmed Yale tradition.

“Commons closing was a corporate decision, not a University decision,” he said.

One of the central complaints voiced by those protesting the closure of Commons has been the extra burden residential dining hall workers have had to bear this year because of a greater influx of students during dinner hours. From his perspective as head chef in Silliman, Stuart Comen said he has seen the magnitude of this change, noting that the college has experienced an increase over the past year of about 20 percent in the number of students who eat at the dining hall on weekday nights. This increase has pushed the daily dinner traffic through Silliman at over 400, Comen said. One night a couple of weeks ago when Timothy Dwight’s dining hall was closed, he added, there were over 600 students, partly because Timothy Dwight students did not have Commons as an option.

Commons dining hall workers have also had to deal with additional pressures, Comen said, because there is no longer any night staff to call on when extra help is needed during the day.

Both Ward 1 aldermanic candidate Sarah Eidelson and Democratic nominee for Ward 22 aldermanJeanette Morrison attended the protest. Morrison said Commons had been a place for students to go to meet people of all different backgrounds, and their ability to do so is now impeded by the University’s decision.

Morse College Master Frank Keil, chair of the Council of Masters, said in a Thursday email that it remains unclear whether the closing of Commons has been a success or a failure. He added that it is necessary to determine how much of an issue crowding at other dining halls has been before moving forward with any changes.

Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle deferred comment about Commons’ closure to Ernie Huff, director of student and faculty administrative services, who did not respond to four requests for comment over the weekend.

Rachel Payne ’12, a student who helped organize the event and created the Facebook page advertising it, said she was happy to see such a large turnout of protesters.

“It was exciting to see dining hall staff and students come together with that much energy,” Payne said.

Payne added that a lack of commitment to adequate staffing makes it difficult for workers to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities.

But Proto said the movement is far from over. In his speech in front of an excited crowd in the rotunda, Proto insisted they all continue with their efforts until Commons is reopened for dinner hours.

“When we get involved in a fight, we stay in a fight,” said Proto.

This is not the first time administrators have decided to reduce Commons’ hours — it was also closed for dinner from1991 until1998, when renovations of the residential colleges began.

Comments