Approximately 80 union members and supporters staged a rain-drenched demonstration outside the New Haven Lawn Club Tuesday evening as Yale President Richard Levin addressed an alumni reception sponsored by the Yale Club of New Haven.
Members of locals 34 and 35, Yale’s two largest unions, as well as hospital workers and undergraduates, rallied outside the club before the reception. The union supporters stood at the Humphrey Street and Whitney Avenue entrances to the club holding signs that asked Levin to engage in a dialogue with Yale workers. They distributed leaflets that contained information about pensions, one of the major issues in the current contract talks.
The demonstration marked the fourth time in the past two weeks union supporters have distributed information about labor issues to alumni at events featuring Levin. Union supporters in Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit leafleted outside talks Levin gave in those cities last week.
Levin declined to comment on the rally.
The University and its unions have been negotiating for new contracts since February. Negotiations have stalled recently, and full-table bargaining sessions have not been held since the first week of October.
Locals 34 and 35 represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers.
Local 35 President Bob Proto said many workers and union supporters showed up at the reception specifically hoping to initiate a dialogue with Levin.
“A lot of people are frustrated that Rick Levin is not committed to finding a solution to our differences,” Proto said. “Actually we came out here because it seems that we’re forced into looking for Rick.”
Dennis Dammling, an electrician and member of Local 35, said the unions are looking for a fair settlement to their contracts.
“We’re not asking for something crazy,” he said. “We’re committed to Yale, we just want some commitment back.”
Josh Eidelson ’06, one of approximately six undergraduates who participated in the event, said he and the other students had come to ask Levin to support Yale workers.
“I’m here to show solidarity with the people who make my university function,” Eidelson said.
Although most union supporters left the club before Levin’s talk was scheduled to begin, Levin addressed labor issues in his speech.
Calling it a “gloomy” subject, Levin spoke about Yale’s acrimonious labor history. He said he thought that this year’s negotiations might be different from past talks, which have more often than not resulted in strikes.
“I really thought for a while that we had a shot at burying the hatchet,” he said.
Levin said he believed that there was real progress at the bargaining table through the end of last year. He said that union leaders have made a “strategic choice” in recent months to focus on the organizing drives of hospital workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization instead of getting contracts settled for workers.
Despite the lack of progress in recent weeks, Levin told alumni that he is ready to resume contract talks though he is uncertain how long negotiations might continue.
“We’re ready to sit down tomorrow and negotiate around the clock. We’d be delighted to get this done,” he said. “[But] this could take many months more. I’m not terribly optimistic.”
Union leaders have said the ball is in the University’s court and are waiting for University leaders to respond to union proposals in negotiations.
Union members authorized leaders to call job actions during votes Sept. 4. Though leaders originally planned a three-day strike in October, no actions were held. Union members said they will present Levin with a signed petition at noon on Nov. 21 but that further actions or strikes are not planned yet.