As Yale moves into its third day of the strike, disagreement among New Haven’s clergy seems to rival the discord between the unions and the University.
New Haven’s religious leaders have voiced mixed opinions about how the strike will affect many members of local congregations. While some clergy support the unions’ decision to strike, others remain openly critical.
In February, members of the New Haven clergy wrote a letter to the community discouraging a strike. The letter had 40 signatures, including that of the Rev. Boise Kimber from the First Calvary Baptist Church.
“I just think it’s a bad time for people to be on the picket line instead of at the negotiating table,” Kimber said.
The letter cited the economy as an important reason against having a strike. With the national unemployment rate at 6 percent and recent layoffs across New Haven, the letter said, “this is not a time for a strike.”
The letter also addressed the problem of strikers who have families or loved ones they must support, saying that one or two missed paychecks could create financial chaos in a household.
The letter urged Yale workers to seek a compromise instead of striking.
The Rev. Eric Smith of the Community Baptist Church said that while some graduate students and hospital workers belong to his church, the majority of his congregation affected by the strike are members of locals 34 and 35.
“[Of] the people who I talked to — there hasn’t been a single dissenting voice about this issue,” Smith said.
Like Smith, the Rev. Lillian Daniel DIV ’93 of the Church of the Redeemer said she supports the strike. Daniel is the president of the union-affiliated advocacy group Connecticut Center for a New Economy.
Daniel said members of her congregation feel the strike’s effects at all levels, ranging from professors to graduate students, doctors and Yale workers.
“Yale is the largest employer in the city, so it’s going to affect many members of our congregation,” she said.
Daniel said that while she personally supports the strike, her church is making an effort to remain neutral and extend its hospitality to everyone. The church has offered space to professors who want to hold their classes off campus, she said.
Both Daniel and Smith questioned Yale’s current relationship with its workers. Daniel said she thinks Yale could do more to fulfill its side of the “social contract” with the New Haven community. Smith asked why workers were not rebelling against union leadership if Yale’s offer is as good as it is supposed to be.
Pastor James Newman III from the New Freedom Baptist Church, who also signed February’s letter to the community, said he thinks the retirement package can be improved, but the wages Yale is offering are acceptable.
“If Yale was ripping the people off, then I would say strike and I support you,” Newman said. “[But] I think Yale is being fair to the people.”
Newman said he joined about 15 preachers to greet Rev. Jesse Jackson at Yale University President Richard Levin’s office on Monday. After hearing mixed versions about Yale’s wage offer, Newman said he confronted Levin about the subject. Levin responded that workers at the lowest end of the pay scale would receive as much as a 42 percent wage increase over a six-year period, Newman said.
“They’ve got to be crazy to go out on strike if somebody is going to give [them] a 42 percent increase,” Newman said.
Newman also said Yale cannot be expected to pay professional salaries to those employees who are not professionally trained. Instead, the university should pay them according to the economy so they can live comfortably, he said.
Both Newman and Kimber said negotiations between locals 34 and 35 should not include GESO and 1199. February’s letter to the community urged the workers’ unions to exclude the unionization of graduate students and hospital workers from its contract settlement.
“I don’t think it’s time for the union to look at this as a package,” Newman said.
Newman said he did not attend the rally, but, from what he watched on television, Jackson’s story changed from Levin’s office to the rally. In the rally, Jackson spoke out for GESO and the hospital workers, and said Yale’s wage offers to locals 34 and 35 were insufficient.
Although some religious leaders feel the strike is a source of division among New Haven’s clergy, Kimber said he is not worried.
“We just happen to disagree upon the philosophies in this case,” he said.