At lunchtime on Wednesday, my fellow Local 34 members and I went to the Provost’s Office on 2 Whitney Ave. to deliver a message. When we arrived, the Yale administration ordered security to block the door to the building to keep us out.
We had gone to Provost Benjamin Polak’s office to drop off a petition signed by over 2,500 Yale employees asking the administration to stop cutting our jobs. We planned to deliver the signatures and tell the provost about our concerns, but we were not permitted to set foot inside of the building. We were told by the security guard who was physically barring the doors that he was instructed to do so by the Yale administration.
I have worked here at Yale for over 30 years and have had a wide range of interactions with the administration, but when I heard what the security guard was telling me, I was shocked. We came just to deliver a message, and we were flat-out rebuffed. It was startling and deeply disrespectful.
What happened on Wednesday reminded me of a very different time in my life. I first got a job at Yale in 1981, working with the sound recordings in the Music Library. I loved my job and I was one of the founding members of my union, Local 34 UNITE HERE, the union of clerical and technical workers on campus. In the earlier years of our union in the ’80s and ’90s, we had a very different relationship with the administration than we do now.
One day during our union contract negotiations in 1991, I was talking about the union with one of my coworkers in the library when an administrator came by and told me to leave. I knew that I had every right to be there, both under University policy and federal law, but he insisted. He chased me through the stairwells in Sterling Memorial Library until I left the building. And this was not an anomaly. It was commonplace at that time for administrators to try to keep workers from talking with one another. They would tell us to leave, they would call the police — they would do whatever it took.
Since those days we’ve made huge strides forward in our relationship with the University. We have the right to communicate with the top administrators about our concerns and sit down, talk and try to solve problems together. But to see that security guard holding shut the doors to that building — I felt like I was back in the ’90s.
Our reception at the Provost’s Office made me wonder: why is the provost shutting down dialogue about important University decisions?
In their profile of Polak last month (“Polak: the man behind the money,” Feb. 22), the News wrote, “The president and the provost are Yale’s two top administrators, and no major decisions are made without input from both of them.” As Yale’s chief financial officer, Polak makes decisions that have major impacts on the working lives and livelihoods of members of our union. On his order, 10 clerical and technical workers in the department of Information Technology Services were abruptly laid off last month. Yet, when we went to give him an important message from thousands of Yale workers who are subject to the results of his decisions, he refused to even to allow us into his building. This behavior is shameful.
When the highest-level decision-makers will not agree to sit down with those affected by their decisions and work together to solve problems, it leads to unnecessary conflict. On the eve of contract negotiations, Polak’s unwillingness to receive us is not a good sign.
Furthermore, I find it quite strange that one of the top two administrators at a university would refuse to engage in a dialogue. His stance begs the question — what is the state of free speech at Yale?
Ken Suzuki is the Secretary-Treasurer of Local 34 UNITE HERE. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .