Local union workers Avi Hassen and Gwendolyn Mills were the man and woman of the hour at the Monday’s Greater New Haven Central Labor Council holiday dinner.
The labor council hosted its annual buffet-style meet-and-greet in Fair Haven, where state and city politicians conversed with local labor leaders and workers. Most laborers in attendance were members of the international union UNITE HERE, the parent organization for Yale’s unions Local 34 and 35, said Local 35 President Bob Proto, who attended the event Monday. But unlike previous years, the dinner, which saw over 100 guests walk in and out, honored specific UNITE HERE workers: Hassen and Mills, for their work canvassing and registering voters in the battleground state of Virginia for the 2008 presidential election.
Both Hassen and Mills participated in non-partisan UNITE HERE’s “Virginia Voters Unite for Change” campaign, which had UNITE HERE workers come to Virginia to register voters. Mills served as the coordinator for the Tidewater region of Virginia, one of three sections of the state that the union focused on for the elections.
Mills worked with the campaign of President-elect Barack Obama and the local registrar of voters. Hassen worked as a canvasser.
Ninety other UNITE HERE workers, helped with the canvassing effort during the last days of the election, but Mills and Hassen had worked in Old Dominion for months.
“I’m honored to be acknowledged,” Mills said Monday. “I feel like I symbolize the excitement people feel in this election.”
Hassen noted the similarities between the Virginia neighborhoods and the Elm City: “[The state] lost its good-paying middle class jobs and [they’ve] been replaced with nothing.”
As workers and politicians mingled, a cake from the Yale Bake Shop to honor Hassen and Mills was served near the wine and soda bar. Also attending the dinner were Local 34 President Laura Smith, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and recently elected U.S. Rep. Jim Himes.