Along with everyone else at Yale, I have received two letters since the beginning of the school year — one from Yale President Richard Levin’s office and one from the Office of Public Affairs — explaining the University’s position on its negotiations with its workers’ unions. I have been carrying these letters around for a month and a half because they bother me so much that I cannot bring myself to throw them away. “Bother” is not quite the right word — if the letters were merely annoying, I would just toss them and be done with it. But it is not just the content of the letters that disturbs me; it is that they were sent at all. I am upset and dismayed by the fact that the University would spend money to send anti-union propaganda to all of the members of its community while at the same time condoning the arrest and prosecution of its workers for trying to explain their side of the story.
The Aug. 29 letter that President Levin signed demonstrates this hypocrisy perfectly. Levin asks the unions accusingly, “Why Confrontation Instead of Cooperation?” at the same time that he tries to convince us that the unions are malevolent forces that do not represent the true interests of their members, but instead harbor a sinister “broader agenda.” If this is the University’s idea of fostering a spirit of cooperation, no one should be surprised that there has been no new contract agreement. Of course, the mysterious “agenda” to which Levin refers is the unions’ support for the rights of other workers at Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital to unionize — quite a sympathetic and understandable position, and hardly the evil plot that Levin’s rhetoric would suggest.
The University’s position that it opposes neutrality because it values free speech rings especially hollow given these letters. If Yale were willing to back up its claimed devotion to free speech by allowing the unions to use University resources to send letters to the community explaining their point of view, then its stated position might be believable. However, instead of allowing its workers to explain their position, Yale allows its hospital police to arrest workers for leafletting.
The worst thing about the letters that now reside at the bottom of my backpack is the realization that my frustration and anger are nothing compared to what Yale’s employees must feel in their attempts to wrest a fair contract out of Yale. While I have the option of just throwing the letters away, University employees have no recourse when their employer — or their employer’s police force — uses tactics of pressure, propaganda, intimidation, harassment, or threat of prosecution to try to defeat union demands, or to prevent unions from forming in the first place. While I could view the whole conflict as irrelevant to me or as merely an annoying sideshow to my educational experience, the people who work at Yale have no choice but to deal with the fact that their employer is openly hostile to their desire for decent wages. While I will leave here after three years and will continue to benefit professionally from Yale’s name for the rest of my life, the employees who work for years or decades to keep this institution running will be unable to support themselves in retirement because their pensions are not livable.
Before any member of this community decides that the unions are the problem, they should consider the source of the information on which they are basing their opinion. If the unions could explain the negotiations from their point of view through mass mailings while President Levin was forced to stand outside, risking arrest and prosecution, in order to hand out leaflets explaining the University’s position, I suspect that many peoples’ views on the matter might be quite different.
Jennifer Hunter is a third-year student at the Law School.