University officials and a local nonprofit refugee resettlement agency, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, are working with a refugee-led company to provide employment for new refugees resettling in the Elm City.

Founded by immigrant Rafid Bayati, Golden Gate CT began as a project in September 2017 to help integrate refugees new to the New Haven community. In partnership with Yale and IRIS, Golden Gate CT has helped five refugees land custodial jobs at Yale despite alleged resistance from Yale Unions Locals 33, 34 and 35, who, according to Bayati, say that their members are “most suitable” to do these jobs.

Ian Dunn, the press representative for Yale Unions Locals 33, 34 and 35, declined to comment on this story.

“[Refugees] came in with zero language, language barriers … and they cannot find any jobs,” said Bayati. “Through this company, we have changed the lives of five people 100 percent.”

The University’s collaboration with Golden Gate began last year after Senior Director of the Investments Office Dean Takahashi reached out to IRIS last year, suggesting a “refugee-founded business” to address the challenges newly resettled refugees face in finding employment. Following their conversation, IRIS contacted Bayati, who founded the company and started working on Golden Gate part time.

Bayati said that he founded the company to help refugees in New Haven “start their new lives,” as well as to “give back” to the community. Bayati himself moved to the United States as a refugee in 2009, fleeing from Iraq.

One Golden Gate employee — who was previously evicted with their family of eight children after they were unable to find work and make rent due to language barriers — has recently bought a car, according to Bayati. Another refugee and Golden Gate employee has used her earnings from the company to provide care for her husband, who is living with heart disease.

Initially, Golden Gate CT employed eight to 10 employees as custodians in various buildings at Yale. According to Bayati, the company has been “kicked out” of certain buildings, including Helen Hadley Hall — a dormitory for graduate students — by local unions. At present, Golden Gate employs five workers in five Yale facilities.

Takahashi told the News that providing employment for this demographic at Yale is difficult, as there is “stiff” competition to get union jobs at Yale. Still, he added that Yale often works with independent companies, such as Golden Gate, to do temporary or “undesirable” work.

Once the company was set up, Takahashi said he contacted Yale Facilities to find “small niches” of work that union leadership would not mind giving to other workers.

“It has been challenging for Golden Gate … to get up and running and to find work but they are making great progress and providing much needed jobs for very worthy folks,” Takahashi said.

Bayati also spoke about the challenges facing the company, noting that the number of employees has decreased because of resistance from unions. Nevertheless, he remains hopeful that Golden Gate will expand its reach to help more recently resettled refugees in the area.

Takahashi also told the News that the company is “particularly excited” about the prospect of finding engineering-related or support work at the University for some of these refugees, adding that many skilled workers are “underemployed” due to a lack of required credentials or certifications.

According to Bayati, Yale has promised to allocate four skilled jobs to employees of the company. These jobs would include engineering, data entry and auto technician positions.

Ryan Gittler ’20, a staff reporter at the News and co-president of the Yale Refugee Project — a student organization that supports the resettlement processes of refugees, immigrants and other forced migrants — said that while the group is not familiar with the company, they are “wholeheartedly supportive” of any University effort to hire more workers from that demographic.

Gittler also noted that the Refugee Project has implemented its own initiatives to improve economic opportunities for local immigrants. According to Gittler, the Refugee Project has an employment team, which helps IRIS clients bolster their interview skills and navigate the job market. Gittler noted that Havenly, a local nonprofit that partners with refugee chefs to sell their food products, also provides “job training and apprenticeship” for refugees.

“With language and cultural barriers, resettled families often struggle to find stable employment,” Gittler told the News.

Golden Gate employs refugees from Algeria and Syria, among other countries. The starting wage at Golden Gate is $15 per hour.

Aakshi Chaba | aakshi.chaba@yale.edu

Ruiyan Wang | ruiyan.wang@yale.edu