Nearly 200 Yale workers, union leaders and area residents packed Center Church on the Green for a fiery revival Monday night, as clergy members encouraged them to fast, pray and “do whatever it takes” to achieve a new relationship with Yale.
With talk of fighting Yale in biblical terms and references to Yale President Richard Levin as “the pharaoh,” the revival reflected increasing tensions between the University and its unions, as the two sides continue negotiations for new contracts.
At similar meetings throughout the spring, union and community leaders emphasized the need for a partnership with Yale, and they expressed hope that the two sides could mend their historically adversarial relationship through a more peaceful process and better relations with the city.
But with contract negotiations between Yale and its two largest unions foundering and leaders on both sides expecting a contentious fall of demonstrations and strikes, Monday’s revival reflected the growing, if familiar, bitterness toward the University.
Locals 34 and 35 represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, service, dining hall and maintenance workers, and have been closely aligned with graduate students and hospital workers trying to unionize. The alliance has proven a major stumbling block to negotiations, and union leaders are planning a day of civil disobedience on Sept. 25. University leaders are preparing for a possible strike in October.
Monday’s revival was sponsored by the Greater New Haven Interfaith Ministerial Alliance, a group founded this summer by the Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93, who last year ran an unsuccessful union-backed campaign for a seat on the Yale Corporation, the University’s highest policy-making body.
Organizers intended the revival to promote a “social contract” between Yale and New Haven, a plan written by the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, a union-affiliated advocacy group. The social contract calls for Yale to fund New Haven schools, a plan Yale and city school officials have criticized.
Throughout the current negotiations, union leaders have placed more emphasis on Yale’s role in the city, focusing on the impact of University jobs on city schools and housing.
During the revival, Lee referred to Levin as “the pharaoh,” urging workers to stand up to him and demand to be treated with respect. Local 34 Vice President Alexis Flint reflected the sentiments of other speakers when she questioned Yale’s commitment to a partnership with the unions.
“Where’s Yale’s respect when they hire African-Americans in Local 35 jobs and they still want to keep us cooking the master’s food and cleaning the master’s house?” Flint said. She added that the jobs were good, but did not offer opportunities for advancement.
Clergy leaders called on residents to fast and pray every Monday until Yale agreed to a social contract with the city.
Leaders also referred to a letter Levin wrote to students, faculty and staff at the end of August that argued union leaders’ top priorities were not securing contracts but a broader agenda.
Jennifer Klein, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Social and Policy Studies at Yale, told audience members that a broader agenda was exactly what union leaders wanted to achieve.
“That broader agenda is going to link the unions, religious congregations and community organizers in creating a city in which we can all live with dignity and security,” Klein said.
Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the two sides should cooperate in addressing city issues.
“Yale and its unions should be working together to advance education, health care and home buying in the city of New Haven,” Klasky said. “This was President Levin’s hope when he first approached the unions about building a better relationship.”
At the end of the meeting, members of the audience lined up along the middle aisle and individually pledged to participate in the civil disobedience Sept. 25.
“The only thing that could go wrong is that we could be divided, but we’re not going to be divided,” the Rev. Lillian Daniel DIV ’93 said.
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