Thirty years ago on Sept. 26, 1984, clerical and technical workers at the University walked off their jobs and began to picket in the streets. The scene on Cross Campus yesterday — where hundreds of union members gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the strike — was far cry from that moment.
Union members gathered in front of Sterling Memorial Library at noon yesterday to show the solidarity and strength of organized labor at Yale. Yale’s administration also came out onto Cross Campus to partake in the birthday cake and balloons.
When he made an appearance, University President Peter Salovey shook the hands of campus workers rather than arguing with them about their contracts, as then-University President Bart Giamatti did in the 1980s.
And rather than chanting against the University, union leaders extolled the virtues of collective bargaining and of collaboration with Yale.
“Thirty years is significant because 30 years ago was the start of a new life for me,” said Pat Carta, who worked at the University for five years before the formation of Local 34, one of Yale’s two major unions, in 1983. Carta also previously served as staff director of the union.
Wednesday’s celebration also struck a tone that was different from the one present in the recent turmoil between the unions and the University. In the past months, the two have quarreled over issues ranging from budget cuts to changes in the Medical School and the reorganization of Yale Dining.
History weighed heavily on the event, with long-time union members eager to compare the circumstances of Yale’s workforce before and after the creation of the union.
Laura Smith, who served as Local 34 president from 1994 to 2010, said there has been a substantial difference in the University’s treatment of its workers before and after the formation of the union.
Members of the Yale administration also took part in the festivities and praised the work of union members on campus.
“I think that it’s great to celebrate hard and dedicated work on behalf of our University today,” Salovey said. “I view the University as a community, and as ‘mayor’ of that community, I think it’s important that we all work to make it better.”
Salovey was accompanied by University Vice President and Director of New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65, who in the early 2000s played a major role in reversing decades of strife between the unions and the University.
The gathering on Cross Campus was as much a pep rally as it was a reminder to Yale of the strength of Local 34 and Local 35, which represent nearly 5,000 pink-, white- and blue-collar workers across campus.
“One of the things about the celebration is I’m hoping that Yale sits back and realizes that we’re here to stay,” said Local 35 President Bob Proto.
Sterling Library Bibliographic Assistant Yuka Tetrault called Local 34 a “powerful organization,” and Academic Support Assistant Arturo Perez-Cabello credited the union’s agreement with the University as the reason he still has a job.
Labor leaders stressed the importance of showcasing solidarity across Yale’s unions — something they say Yale has at times underestimated. Wednesday’s event included speeches from Proto, Local 35 Treasurer Tayisha Walker and Local 34 President Laurie Kennington.
Despite the festive atmosphere, though, the tensions in the unions’ recent relationships with Yale still simmered beneath the surface. In speeches and interviews, union members and leaders made it clear that a day of celebration did nothing to allay their concerns.
“We are not interested in letting the University push us back,” said Walker. “Get ready to fight for the things that we still want.”
Antonio Lopes, a vice president of Local 34, said he hopes Yale will engage the union in a more substantive dialogue about the impact of budget cuts on jobs, adding that recent changes have left more work to fewer employees — a refrain commonly heard across both unions.
Among the issues on display Wednesday was the lack of recognition of graduate students as employees of the University, which Yale has long resisted. Graduate Employees and Students Organization (GESO) president Aaron Greenberg GRD ’18 spoke about how the unrecognized graduate student union is closely aligned with Locals 34 and 35.
Nevertheless, Kennington said there remain opportunities for unions and administrators to work together.
“There are some tough issues,” Kennington said, “but I know that we can resolve them.”