Dana Schuster ’07 is an avid shopper, so she’s used to waiting in lines.
But she has never had to cross any in Urban Outfitters.
As Schuster continues to browse courses and finalize her schedule, beeping horns, banging drums and chanting picketers are constant reminders of the ongoing labor strike, which recently entered its second week. Nevertheless, Schuster said the strike is seldom on her mind.
“Honestly, I don’t think about it that much,” she said. “I’m more worried about what classes I’m going to take and making friends.”
Then again, it has been less than two weeks. For Tilney Wickersham ’88, it was over 10 weeks long.
At 5 a.m. on Sept. 27, 1984, union members in the newly-formed Local 34 went on strike, after contract negotiations with the University fell through. Local 35 members, who were also in negotiations at the time, walked out on their jobs two days later to show solidarity among unions. University and union negotiators returned to the bargaining table repeatedly throughout that fall, but progress was stagnant and the strike dragged on until Dec. 4.
Those 10 weeks left an indelible imprint on many Yale students — especially on that year’s incoming freshman class.
“I was fairly apolitical [when I came to Yale]” Wickersham said. “But we got into political discussions right away and were forced to take sides. We had to decide whether we wanted to cross picket lines to eat at Commons or even to go to class.”
For Stephen Murphy ’87, the decision was simple.
“I was on financial aid and I was working on campus so I couldn’t afford not to go to my student job,” Murphy said.
Murphy, who now works at the Yale Office of Cooperative Research, said the student response to the current strike is unchanged — some students support the workers and some support the university, while others just want to get the campus back to normal.
But “normal” is a relatively meaningless term for incoming freshmen, especially those left to feed themselves.
“I remember reading how to make grilled cheese with an iron,” Wickersham quipped.
“We were brand new,” Susanne Friedberg ’88 said. “So we didn’t know what we were missing.”
What they lacked, as Friedberg realized in hindsight, was a sense of community.
“Because it went on for so long, we had a narrower group of friends and really didn’t start to know each other as a class until second semester,” Friedberg said.
Murphy said the atmosphere — and not the food — of the dining halls was what their freshman class missed most.
“There’s no substitute for the camaraderie in the college and the dining halls that are at your doorstep,” Murphy said. “Pizza at Naples just isn’t the same.”
This year, Schuster said she has had little difficulty meeting people and already recognizes most of the faces in her college. Aside from move-in — during which Schuster was greeted with parades of picketing workers as she and her family unloaded bags and boxes from their car — she said the strike has not been overly disruptive.
Wickersham said the 1984 strike was unifying in its own ways.
“People shared hot plates and fridge space and in that way, it brought people together,” Wickersham said. “[The strike] also made us get out into the city. I felt more a part of the community and for that I am grateful.”
Like Murphy two decades ago, Schuster said she is not yet well-enough informed to side either with the unions or the University.
Deborah Chernoff, an administrative assistant in the Yale College Dean’s Office in 1984 and currently a union spokesperson, said the two strikes are fundamentally the same.
“We’re still fighting over wages,” she said.
And while Wickersham looked back fondly on collecting her weekly $72.80 rebate checks and frequenting Claire’s and Copper Kitchen, she said the end of the strike was well-welcomed.
“It was sort of fun, but it was definitely a relief when it was over,” she said.