Ward 7 Alderwoman Dolores Colon ’91 shared a stage with Yale President Richard Levin Monday as she spoke of traditionally elitist attitudes toward workers.
Colon spoke as a representative of Local 34, which represents Yale’s clerical and technical workers. Her remarks came as part of a student–organized ceremony to honor Martin Luther King Jr.
“You have the president of the University [and] all high level well educated people that look down at custodians and secretaries,” Colon said. “That was one of the points I wanted to make.”
Yet as she condemned the relationship between Yale’s leaders and its workers, Colon’s very presence on the same stage as Levin represented a significant change in the role the unions have played in public events, symbolizing the first steps toward improving the long-acrimonious relationship between the University and its unions.
While Monday’s ceremony was planned by a student-organized committee rather than the administration, it continued a developing tradition of increased union inclusion at major University public events.
At October’s Tercentennial Convocation, Associate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand spoke of the important role Yale’s workers play in the community. That weekend’s Tercentennial Gala celebration at the Yale Bowl featured many union members onstage with Levin, holding candles as they sang “America the Beautiful.”
Just weeks earlier, in a move considered emblematic of greater changes in University-labor relations, Levin and Local 35 President Bob Proto embraced in front of audience members at a memorial ceremony for the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The recent inclusion of a union presence in public University events comes as union and University leaders talk about mending fences in preparation for contract negotiations this winter.
“I think there has been a concerted effort to show that Yale is comprised of students, faculty, administrators and staff, and so whenever you can demonstrate that all these people are an integral part of the University community, the better,” Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said. “I think [it is] a way of demonstrating to the community that what President Levin has been saying, he means.”
Levin, whose speech Monday addressed the University’s commitment to civil rights, relations with the city, and the recent push to improve labor relations, said his remarks reflected Yale’s continuing effort to work with its unions.
“From my point of view, I’m trying to reach out and work more cooperatively with our unions and their leaders, and so I certainly welcomed these efforts to include the voices of our workers in public ceremonies at Yale,” Levin said.
Though Levin described the event’s theme as “universal in nature” and naturally conducive to union involvement, he added that the inclusion of union representation on stage with him would have been unusual in previous administrations.
“I’m trying to establish the credibility and sincerity of my commitment to making things better here,” Levin added.
Colon filled in for Local 34 Vice President Alexis Flint, who could not attend. She acknowledged that she would likely not have shared a stage with Levin in the past and said that she thought Levin’s mention of labor relations in his speech reflected a sincere commitment to change Yale’s tone.
Still, Colon expressed reservations concerning whether the institutional practice of the University would reflect Levin’s commitment.
“I think he’s genuinely interested in fostering a new era of labor relations at Yale,” Colon said. “The problem is: how far will the Yale Corporation do that? That’s the real power. He can point the direction, but the Corporation has to follow.”