Over 1,000 New Haven workers stood on the steps of City Hall on Thursday, calling for more employment opportunities in the city.
Though the University announced Tuesday that it planned to hire 500 New Haven residents over the next two years, protestors called on Yale and Yale-New Haven Hospital to create more jobs for underemployed groups. Yale unions Local 34 and 35 joined New Haven Rising, a grassroots labor organization, at the protest and marched through the streets to the construction site of Yale’s two new residential colleges. During the demonstration, Mayor Toni Harp and Ward 14 Alder Santiago Berrios-Bone spoke to the crowd about hiring more African Americans and Latinos for Yale’s construction and contract work.
“We are seeing billions of dollars of buildings rising before our eyes, but New Haven residents are not rising with them,” New Haven Rising volunteer Abby Feldman said.
Harp reassured the crowd that she wants to fix the city’s unemployment problems. Harp emphasized the need for hiring people who live in areas with high unemployment — areas that also have more African Americans and Latinos. These neighborhoods include Dixwell, Newhallville, Fair Haven and The Hill, the mayor said.
Several protesters interviewed said the city’s talent is going to waste because of high unemployment. The unemployment rate in the city for African Americans and Latinos is more than double the unemployment rate for white residents, which is 7.7 percent. Amid the shouts and cheers of protestors, the message that city employers hire people unequally took shape.
“We are calling on all employers to step up and employ all New Haven residents,” Board of Alders president Tyisha Walker said, asking how many of the 500 new jobs from Yale would go to these groups.
Bruce Alexander, vice president for the Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said in a letter to city officials earlier this week that one fifth of the 500 jobs will be with building contractors. However, Alexander did not specify how many of these will be construction jobs. That depends on how many skilled workers are available, he said.
Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital are the city’s two largest employers, providing jobs for 40 percent of the city. Echoing the concerns of many of the protesters, Walker said she he was worried that Yale’s promise would fail to reduce geographic and ethnic inequality in New Haven.
Yet as Harp pointed out, the city government is another large employer in addition to the University and hospital and is also responsible for creating new jobs.
“There is a job crisis,” said New Haven Rising leader Rev. Scott Marks. “There are residents that are ready to be hired now.”
The city hiring initiative New Haven Works screened and identified over 500 qualified workers, yet it is unclear whether Yale will hire these locals.
Choosing to show solidarity for New Haven Rising was easy for the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, said GESO Co-chair Robin Canavan GRD ’18. She added that she thinks Yale must hire more women and people of color.
Although the focus of the speeches was unemployment, Local 35 President Bob Proto broadened the march’s mission and called for fair project labor agreements, a living wage and jobs with pension plans.
The marchers were led by police cars and the beat of a local drum troupe to the site of Yale’s two new residential colleges on Prospect Street. Marchers wore signs with the words “Hire New Haven.”
Local 34 President Laurie Kennington spoke on the back of a truck to a crowd outside Ingalls Rink.
“We need [Yale] to be a community member that provides good jobs right here in this city,” Kennington said, calling on the hospital and the University to hire from all areas of New Haven. “Do the right thing.”
New Haven’s unemployment rate is 14.6 percent, well above the 5.5 percent national average.