Yale freshmen received an unusual reception as they arrived on campus Friday, greeted not only by freshmen counselors and move-in crews, but also by picketing University workers.
To the tune of tambourines, drums, and megaphones, members of the class of 2007 arrived on the third day of a strike by members of Yale’s two largest unions and workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Striking workers picketed and chanted slogans like “What do we want? Contracts! When do we want them? Now!” as parents and students unloaded suitcases and boxes.
Union spokesman Bill Meyerson said approximately 1,000 union members picketed Friday. Yale officials said they did not have an estimate of the number of picketers, but suggested that some were not members of Yale’s unions.
Yale Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said she was disappointed in the unions’ choice to picket as freshmen moved in.
“It’s unfortunate that the unions chose to attempt to disrupt the
moving-in of freshmen and their parents today,” Highsmith said. But Highsmith said that despite the disturbance, the day proceeded essentially as scheduled.
Yale did announce, however, that the annual freshman convocation will be postponed “in view of disruptions threatened by the unions,” Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said.
Most non-striking Yale workers on Old Campus and police officials declined to comment on the record, but many said move-in was going smoothly despite the strike.
Meyerson said the picket lines saw good turnout and that freshmen and their parents were largely accepting of the workers, though he said there were some signs of frustration as well.
“People have been friendly, there have been no incidents,” Meyerson said. “And sometimes we’re met with stony silence too.”
Reginald Solomon, the program director for New Haven and State Affairs, said many parents did not focus on the strike, and were instead more concerned about finding keys and bed linens.
At approximately 9:30 a.m., the streets cleared somewhat as union members headed for the corner of College and Elm Streets to witness a union civil disobedience.
New Haven Police Department spokeswoman Bonnie Winchester said 83 people were arrested; they included presidents of locals 34 and 35 Laura Smith and Bob Proto and John Wilhelm, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International union.
In September 2002, a similar civil disobedience was staged, culminating in 800 arrests.
Locals 34 and 35 represent 4,000 clerical, technical, maintenance and service workers. Union leaders have said that the strike, which follows a week-long strike in March, could last indefinitely.
Although the unions and the University differ on the number of workers currently participating in the job action, 40 to 60 percent of clerical and technical workers and 90 to 95 percent of maintenance and service workers are on strike.
Jim Foye, spokesman for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., said the mayor spoke with Yale President Richard Levin and the unions yesterday, which could soon lead to resumed bargaining sessions, though no date has been set.
DeStefano was instrumental in brokering a deal that ended a strike in 1996.
Yale Associate Vice-President for Administration Janet Lindner said the talks with the mayor were a good beginning.
“We’re eager to have a meeting with the unions,” she said. “We hope to have these contracts settled soon.”
Earlier this month, locals 34 and 35 withdrew their demand that the University recognize the efforts of the Graduate Students and Employees Organization and the Yale-New Haven Hospital workers.
But GESO chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 — who marched on the picket lines Friday — said people misunderstand this development.
“The unions have made it clear from the beginning that locals 34 and 35 — their issue is their contracts,” Seth said. “That said, they have made it clear that they support us.”
Yale officials have said that they cannot bargain with the unions over recognition of organizing efforts by GESO or the workers of the Service Employees International Union District 1199.
Hans Cho ’04, a Saybrook freshmen counselor, said his freshmen took the union action in stride.
“I think for some it may be a little hard to adjust, but most of them seem to be taking it pretty well,” said Cho.
Many freshmen arriving by car had a long wait, with the union action forcing freshmen and parents laden with bags to push through the lines of striking workers.
Anatoly Brekhman ’05, on Old Campus to help move in Morse freshmen, said people were still able to move in despite the noise, but added that he was disappointed with the unions’ choice to picket Old Campus.
“They’re not winning any popularity contests,” he said. “If anything, they’re turning people against them.”
Walking the picket line, Jim Limosani said he hoped the union presence would persuade parents to pressure the University to settle contracts.
“I think it has more of an effect on the parents worrying about their kids, and that’s what we want,” said Limosani, a locksmith and a member of local 35.
The unions blocked many of the sidewalks surrounding Old Campus until approximately 12:30 p.m., with union members holding signs and shouting through megaphones.
Christos Mangos ’07 said he was surprised to be targeted by a megaphone-touting union member as he unloaded his luggage from his car.
Most freshmen said they had received letters from Yale officials about the strike, but didn’t anticipate such a vocal union presence.
“I was a little overwhelmed,” Mangos said. “I wasn’t expecting the strike to be quite like this.”
By 2:00 p.m., 95 percent of freshmen had moved in, Highsmith said.
But some said the union presence made move-in a trial.
“They tied up traffic and made it very difficult for parents,” said Dan Ritchie, father of freshman William Ritchie. “I think university towns are sheltered and think they’re the center of the universe.”
Alice Marsh, a member of local 34, said she felt most parents respected the unions’ decision.
She said she initially had mixed feelings about picketing on move-in day, explaining that if she were a freshman, she would likely have been a little put-off.
“I might have been annoyed and stressed out, I could have been inconvenienced,” she said. “But that’s better than the lifelong
inconvenience of poverty would be to people who are experiencing economic injustice.”
Leif Dautch ’07 said he had been approached by members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, a pro-union group.
He said the strike hadn’t disturbed his moving-in process significantly.
“It pissed me off a little bit, just because they did it because they
knew we would be here,” he said.
Thomas Frampton ’06, a member of the UOC, said it was clear that freshmen are not the target. Watching the civil disobedience, he held a large sign reading “Students are back and we’re pissed at Levin.”
“I came to Yale believing that Yale is reaching out to New Haven,” Frampton said. “I think the freshmen are going to learn a lot quicker than we did that that is not the case.”
The day culminated in a visit to campus by presidential candidate Howard Dean ’71.
“He was coming for a familial commitment, and he realized he was going to be crossing picket lines and he wanted to show his support for the unions,” said Edward Anderson ’91, a New Haven resident and Dean supporter.