Noah Dobin-Bernstein ’06 first heard about labor relations at Yale this past summer, when the leaders of his Freshman Outdoor Orientation Trip told him that it was an important topic on campus and that many students were actively involved in labor issues. Since coming to campus, he said he has read up on negotiations and union actions, even trying to become involve in student efforts to support the unions.
As the University and its two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, continue contract negotiations for nearly 4,000 workers, groups of undergraduates have become actively involved in labor issues at Yale. But others have paid the issue little attention.
Since negotiations began in February, student organizations such as the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, or UOC, have held panels and teach-ins to educate other undergraduates. Many of these sessions have been designed to encourage students to participate in specific events such as the unions’ planned act of civil disobedience Sept. 25, at which 67 undergraduates were arrested.
At last night’s open forum sponsored by the Yale College Council, Yale President Richard Levin devoted half the time to answering student questions on labor issues.
Despite these efforts, many students said they have not followed the issue closely.
Ryan Murguia ’05 said he has not heard much on the subject since the civil disobedience.
“It was a pretty hot topic for awhile,” he said. “Then it just kind of died out.”
Dobin-Bernstein said he hopes to see even more efforts targeted at undergraduates.
“I think that there haven’t been enough teach-ins,” he said. “It’s not yet a conversation you would have around your suite.”
Virginia Harris, an editorial assistant in the chemistry department and a member of the Local 34 executive board, said, she has participated in a number of undergraduate panels to give students the opportunity to ask questions about Local 34’s position on key issues.
“I make myself available to speak to any group that has the interest,” Harris said.
She said she believes that students who go to the panels and teach-ins become more involved after attending the meetings.
Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said student activism is as integral a part of a Yale education as classroom instruction. He said the University encourages undergraduates to express their views.
“Everyone’s opinion on it is welcome,” Conroy said. “Some students are going to be supportive of the unions’ proposals whatever they are.”
Union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said she sees a “continuing hum of activity” on campus, desipte a lack of daily contact with students.
“I think clearly there’s a lot of student interest,” she said.
Chernoff said she receives three or four calls a week from undergraduates who want to arrange for speakers from the unions to come to their teach-ins or panels.
UOC member Will Tanzman ’04 said he thinks the UOC has been very successful in getting students informed about labor issues. He said many undergraduates who might not be actively involved still follow labor news but may simply not have a clear-cut opinion on the issue.
“I think there are Yale students who don’t feel like they know enough to take a position,” he said.