Unions and Occupiers march on City Hall

Photo by Joy Shan.

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.


  • cjzurcher

    I respect the Occupiers. They have (like me) lost their jobs. Many have lost their homes. They’ve lost their life support systems — their income. For many, it’s when you don’t have much more to lose that you’re willing to cross the tracks even though there may be a train coming. You’re willing to cross the street, even through there may be a car coming. So many of us have lost almost everything in this country — our sense of self worth; our sense of patriotism and national pride. For these reasons The Occupy Revolution is a force to be reckoned with. We want our jobs back. We want our homes back. We want our livelihoods back. We want our savings back. We want our lives back. We want our country back. Go Occupiers.

  • clarkejl

    Contrary to this article’s dismissive remark that “several students attended,” Yale graduate students formed a key part of the demonstration. GESO, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, was represented through the vigorous participation of scores of students employed by the University as teaching and research assistants. The labor movement is not something taking place in a faraway world outside the academic community; struggling for good jobs is part of the daily reality of many scholars here at Yale.

  • Frashizzle

    When I meet a union member who outworks his non-union counterpart, I’ll consider supporting labor unions. I’ve had three years of experience living amongst predominately unionized labor and 18 years living amongst predominately ununionized labor, and I will repeat: When I meet a union member (future subjunctive… hasn’t happened yet and may never happen) who outworks his non-union counterpart, I’ll consider supporting labor unions. … It’s a real shame that I haven’t met one yet; I’m extremely economically liberal, ideologically.

  • Frashizzle

    Also, I like how members of Yale unions are protesting the university’s hiring policies. It’s hilarious to me. Yale is the most overstaffed institution I have EVER encountered (take a look in a dining hall any day, and you’ll find one person who is paid to swipe cards, a task that could be replaced by a cheap machine, a handful of workers on perpetual break, and five or six people standing near the serving lines, waiting for something to get dirty). If Yale wanted to practice poor employment policies (or even economically rational ones), it would fire half its staff (keep in mind, I’m not claiming that Yale should). It’s just ridiculous for Yale unions to be so ungrateful to an employer that is already bending-over-backwards to employ as many people as it can.

  • joey00

    Unions as Occupiers sit facing the Union Halls at Yale.No need to sneaky spy and watch for Administrators to peep out like Punxstawanna terrified gopher.they would even call a sibling when said hiring joke takes stroll,then i virtually saw their relative fly around the corner,bringing white junk upon two wheels. Yes they keep close tabs on them.That’s why some personnel fled to Century and Gold towers.There’s one percenters,then another 1 % who can afford tents and heaters