Hundreds of labor union members, New Haven residents, clergy and students joined hands at the Unity Rally at City Hall on Wednesday night — an event aimed to show solidarity and commitment to job security movements in New Haven.
The rally called for Yale to agree to a union vote without intimidation for Local 33, the unofficial graduate student union. Attendees also called for job security for the service of maintenance, clerical and technical workers in Local 34 and Local 35, as well as more access to University jobs for the broader Elm City community.
The event, which lasted more than an hour, featured a diverse collection of speakers, ranging from a 13-year-old New Haven middle school student to the founding member of Local 34, Patricia Carta, who started working at Yale in 1979. All the event speakers identified the need for organized community activism efforts as the method to obtain greater employment security and more job opportunities for the future.
Wednesday’s rally came on the heels of the ongoing Local 34 and Local 35 labor-contract negotiations with the University. With contracts set to expire in January, union leaders and Yale representatives continue to negotiate on terms regarding job security and employee benefits.
Wanda Ferreira, an executive board member of Local 34 who attended the rally, has worked as an account assistant for 20 years at the Yale School of Medicine. Her job is one of 986 that Yale has not promised to secure despite multiple demonstrations and negotiation efforts.
Ferreira said her chief expectation for the new contract is a guarantee from Yale that current and future jobs will not be outsourced to other companies. She added that she does not understand why the University would choose outside workers when existing ones are fully capable.
“To me everything is moving in the right direction but we are just not there yet,” Ferreira said.
Despite some members’ concern about the quickly approaching deadline, Local 34 president Laurie Kennington said union leaders are hopeful that they will sign a new contract with the University before the expiration date.
Kennington said Local 34’s main goal has been to achieve job security for current members, particularly the 986 clinical positions at the School of Medicine. She added that the union is also concerned about the potential drop in quality for the student service sector, citing the lack of new hiring efforts despite the opening of two new residential colleges.
But Kennington said unions are “proud to have the best jobs in the region,” and will continue efforts to preserve the current wages and health care standards for all members.
Several alders were also vocal in their support for the joint movement between unions and residents. Ward 23 Alder and Local 35 Secretary-Treasurer Tyisha Walker emphasized the importance of standing together to secure better working conditions for employees.
“If I say I got your back, I got your back,” Walker said. “As time gets hard we do not back down. We will win all the things we fight for.”
In addition to union members, local activist groups also attended the rally. According to Gail Faithfull, who works for the social and economic activism group New Haven Rising, the primary purpose of the rally was to advocate for more University jobs for people around New Haven.
Faithfull said Yale has enough money to support New Haven residents, and that the University “should not just push out poor people but make a new haven.”
Reverend Scott Marks, director of New Haven Rising and an organizer of Wednesday’s rally, said he brought the labor unions together for the rally. Marks said he is excited to see teenagers and adults working hand in hand on a regular basis to fight for a future of good employment opportunities.
With a new president taking office Jan. 20, 2017, Masks added that he expects more unions to form in response.
“People for a long time have been struggling in this economy,” he said. “We’ve had some gains but every level th ere will be people pushing to have a better quality of life. I don’t know where the pushback will come from but my job is to make sure that people are ready to fight for the future they want.”
The Unity Rally was co-sponsored by Local 217, the union for Rhode Island and Connecticut workers in the service industries, the Connecticut AFL-CIO, the Working Families Party and Students Unite Now.