Longtime Local 35 President Bob Proto fended off his first ever challenger to win re-election as president of Yale’s blue-collar union last week.
Local 35, which represents Yale employees in maintenance, service and dining, held its annual elections on Oct. 26. After running uncontested for 11 terms, Proto finally faced a challenger in fellow unionist Shirley Lawrence. But challenger or not, the results were the same, as Proto marched to a resounding 423–127 victory.
“Bobby has put his best foot forward to get the best contracts,” said Connie Ellison-Douglass, an employee in the Jonathan Edwards dining hall and a member of the union for 25 years. “Our residing president has really been making us winners.”
“He’s gotten us raises in the past, raises every year,” added Iris Emery, a cook in Trumbull College.
Proto did not return multiple requests for comment.
Emery cited Proto’s handling of the past year’s tumult — between the closing of Commons and dining hall staff members contending for positions in the two new colleges — as additional proof of his competence as Local 35’s president.
Other members of the Union expressed similar praise for Proto’s work and spoke about issues they hope to see addressed, such as a fix to the attendance system, a rearrangement of shift hours and adjustments to the allotted vacation and sick time.
Labonita Monk, a staff member in Jonathan Edwards College, said she is optimistic that Proto will realize these changes.
“He’s supported the dining service, hearing us out when we have issues with management,” she said. “He’s been good. Hopefully it’ll be better this year.”
Lawrence, Proto’s challenger, has been a vocal activist in New Haven for decades and ran on a platform of providing increased transparency and inclusivity to Local 35. She told the News she wants to make sure there is an equal playing field across the University.
Lawrence said she decided to campaign after other University workers asked her to step up and take on the challenge. Though her campaign ultimately proved unsuccessful, she said she has no regrets. For Lawrence, winning 127 votes is a personal victory.
“I’m pretty proud of that number,” she said. “It showed workers that you do have a voice, and it will be heard, one way or another.”
Lawrence is not opposed to running again, saying that the opportunity is “always there.” Above all, she said, she wants to support her colleagues after years of fellow workers coming to her for work-related and personal advice.
“It was never about me,” she said. “When you listen to other people’s issues, it’s always about them.”
Both Proto and Lawrence relied on flyers, social media and word-of-mouth canvassing to gather support. The two candidates traversed campus to speak to Local 35 affiliates about their platforms and positions. When it came time for the election, members filled out paper ballots in Commons, the Kline Biology Tower, the School of Medicine and West Campus. Ballots were later tallied by hand.
Association with Local 35 is required of all custodial, dining and maintenance workers at Yale. The Union currently has 1,340 members.
Brianna Wu | firstname.lastname@example.org