As Yale and union negotiators closed in on a settlement Wednesday, about 2,000 union members and supporters marched through downtown and rallied on Beinecke Plaza, criticizing the University and urging a quick resolution to contracts.

The noontime march, which stopped traffic for two blocks on Chapel and York streets, followed the opening of the state AFL-CIO convention, which is being held in New Haven through Friday. John Wilhelm ’67, president of the parent union of locals 34 and 35, addressed delegates to the convention, eliciting chants of “Shame on Yale!” before leading the march to campus. Union supporters in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta and Fort Worth, Texas, also protested Wednesday outside the offices of Yale Corporation members.

As they marched to Beinecke Plaza, union leaders carried a “Yale: Settle” banner, while members and supporters followed, chanting the union slogans that have become well-known on campus during the now four-week strike.

“It’s a time for justice and it’s a time for peace,” said Zane Marks, a community organizer who led Wednesday’s march. “It’s a time to settle — the mayor knows that, the president of the college knows that — it’s a time to settle. If the college has any kind of dignity, they will settle this in dignity.”

Speaking at the AFL-CIO convention before the march, Wilhelm praised the strikers for their resolve.

“It’s daunting to walk the street when you don’t know how to pay rent — when the opponent is arrogant to the extreme,” Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm put the strike, which has generated headlines nationwide, in historical perspective.

“There was a time when we forgot about the roots of the American labor movement,” Wilhelm said. “The American labor movement has found its way again.”

He also urged Yale to stop playing “the race card.” Union leaders and 25 members of Congress accused the University last week of not hiring an appropriate proportion of Hispanic workers while purposefully igniting racial tensions by parading Hispanic replacement workers past a crowd of predominantly black Yale strikers. Yale officials denied the claims and said the workers were hired by a subcontractor.

After Wilhelm admonished the University, hundreds of convention delegates wearing pins of blue and red flickering lights to show solidarity with the Yale unions rose in a standing ovation, chanting “Shame on Yale, Shame on Yale.”

While Wilhelm, Yale President Richard Levin and New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. met for a late-night bargaining session at City Hall, dozens of union-friendly Yale undergraduates met at the union headquarters on College Street.

Most of the students refused to comment on the meeting, but Erin Scharff ’04 said the group was planning a “JEOPARDY!” contest scheduled for Monday afternoon on Beinecke Plaza. They plan to hold a labor-themed “JEOPARDY!” competition to replace the official “JEOPARDY!” college tournament. Yale College Council organizers said Tuesday the game show’s taping at Yale has been postponed because of the strike.