Amid chants of “A better Yale, a better community,” nearly 2,000 Yale workers and union supporters packed the lawn of the Harkness Dormitory at the School of Medicine yesterday to rally for a new partnership between Yale and its unions.

The rally brought together members of Yale’s two largest recognized unions, graduate students and hospital workers trying to unionize, and community members. It came as the University and locals 34 and 35 negotiate over new contracts amid what both sides have called a commitment to improving relations.

Wednesday’s rally reflected a major change in tone from the often bitter rallies that have characterized the historically tempestuous relationship between Yale and its unions.

“Years from now, we will look back at this time and call it one of the most important moments in the history of Yale,” Local 35 President Bob Proto told the crowd.

Proto began his remarks by noting that, in his nearly three decades of fighting Yale, he had never seen such a gathering by union members and supporters, who now rallied to promote partnership — rather than battle — with the University.

But Proto also cautioned that a partnership would only be complete when Yale agreed to negotiate contracts with the graduate students and hospital workers, something University and hospital officials have said they will not do.

Proto also added that if union contracts are not settled soon, the rally’s attendees should come together again on a “certain day” at the end of May — an allusion to Commencement, the University’s target date for settling contracts.

Even with tensions over Yale’s refusal to recognize graduate students and hospital workers, however, the tone at Wednesday’s rally reflected a hopeful sense about the future of labor and community relations at Yale.

The Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93 — who last April summed up the tone of another union rally when he declared that Yale had met its “Waterloo” in the federation of Yale’s unions — spoke about his vision of a partnership between the unions and the University. Lee, a candidate for the Yale Corporation, said part of his vision was a role for community members in Yale’s decision-making processes.

Other speakers included Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, members of locals 34, 35 and GESO, and hospital workers. Many expressed hope that the new contracts would be the best in the unions’ history and that Yale officials would agree to negotiate with graduate students and hospital workers.

Before the rally, groups from different parts of campus gathered separately to march to the Harkness lawn. The procession — a stream of waving blue flags led by union leaders and the music of a drum corps — filled College Street, stretching from Grove Street to Chapel Street at one point. Union members, graduate students and undergraduates greeted each other with shouts and danced to the beat of the drums as they marched festively to the main site of the rally.

During the march, workers — many of them veterans of past strikes — recalled coming together during previous negotiations with a less hopeful message.

Joanne Kittredge, a Local 34 member who works in the Law School, said she was heartened by the large turnout, although she said she would have preferred to be marching under different circumstances.

“I was hoping it was going to be a victory march with a contract, but it’ll come,” Kittredge said.

As she marched, Kittredge recalled many of the strikes and rallies she had participated in in her 25 years at Yale, noting that yesterday’s spirited march was a far cry from the days of standing hungrily on the street, protesting just before Christmas.

As marchers passed Phelps Gate, they were joined by two groups of undergraduates. About 70, from groups including United Students at Yale and the Student Labor Action Coalition, supported the unions. But on the other side of the street, a group of 10 students holding anti-union signs and calling themselves “Students for Union Compliance,” followed the march to the Harkness lawn, where some got into arguments with union members.

“Get a job, then you’ll see what it’s like!” one union member shouted at members of the group, who held signs reading “Union no” and “Hold ’em Yale.” Other union members taunted the group by chanting “follow the leaders!” as they walked by.

–Staff Reporters James Collins, Brian Lee, Shinzong Lee and Jia Lynn Yang contributed to this article.

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