Elm City residents and workers joined forces with Occupy New Haven protesters Tuesday afternoon at City Hall to march for better-paying jobs, safer streets and more opportunities for city youth.
The march — which attracted over 600 people from the Occupy New Haven protest, community groups and labor unions — began with a rally inside City Hall and proceeded to Orange, College and Wall streets, where demonstrators protested against AT&T, Chase Bank and Yale University’s respective labor policies. The protest was both the largest since the Occupy movement first set up camp on the New Haven Green in mid October, and the first explicitly supported by local unions.
“When the Occupy movement started, we began collaborating,” said Gwen Mills, political director of Yale’s Local 34 union, an affiliate of the nationwide UNITE HERE union. “Our aim is to blank out inequality and amplify themes of the Occupy movement.”
Plans for Tuesday’s march started two weeks ago, when Local 34, non-profit progressive advocacy group Connecticut Center for a New Economy and the New Haven Central Labor Council, among other groups, coordinated with Occupy New Haven to hold a protest march to demand social justice and the creation of jobs with livable wages, said Chris Garaffa, a member of Occupy New Haven.
While union participation was a prominent feature of the protest, the Occupy protesters took a leading a role in its organization, which Garaffa said they intended as a protest against some of the Elm City’s biggest corporations.
“We want fair negotiations, good salaries and benefits for workers,” he said, adding that the protest also supported the AT&T and Yale University employees that will soon renew their contracts.
A member of Yale’s Local 35 union, who wished to remain anonymous because of employment concerns, criticized Yale University’s hiring practices. He said the University has hired disadvantaged people and taken advantage of their situation by offering them low salaries in return. “Yale is big enough to provide fair wages pays and good jobs,” he said. “I’m here to show my support to other union members and the New Haven community.”
Tyisha Walker, a representative of Local 35 and Yale dining hall employee, denied this claim and said that the march aimed at fighting for “higher job standards, which are now under attack.”
“This is about making this city a better place,” said Walker, who recently won election to the Ward 23 seat on the Board of Aldermen.
Apart from the upcoming contract negotiations of AT&T and Yale workers, the march addressed the problems of street crime and youth opportunities in New Haven.
“We need good quality jobs and better opportunities for youth,” said Garaffa when speaking at the rally in City Hall. “That’s the only way we can end the cycle of poverty and violence in our city.”
LaToya Agnew from New Elm City Dream — the youth group at the head of the procession — was one of the speakers at the rally. Agnew told the crowd that if youth had greater access to job opportunities, they wouldn’t have to commit crimes in order to earn money. Still, she said she was optimistic about the city’s future.
“Change is going to come,” she said. “It’s happening now, with everyone at this march today.”
Even though the Yale Working Group — the University branch of the Occupy New Haven movement — did not make an official appearance at the protest, several students attended.
“We want to show our solidarity with the unions, the youth groups and Occupy New Haven,” Working Group member Emily Villano ’13 said.
Christopher Roderick, a member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478, said that, even though he is not part of Occupy New Haven, he supports their cause.
“We are all fighting for well-paid jobs, benefits, pension and dignity.”
Last March, Yale and city employee unions joined with church-based and student activist groups to organize a similar protest dubbed “We Are One,” which drew more than 1,000 people to the Green.