The unions at Yale know a thing or two about the struggles of working people. For over 75 years, we have worked to expand dignity and freedom for our members, the Yale community and the city of New Haven. Through this work, Yale has committed to a standard that allows us a security increasingly rare for working people in this country: owning our own home, sending our kids to college and retiring with a guaranteed income. We have worked to stabilize neighborhoods in New Haven by insisting that the University give fair consideration to local residents who are applying for jobs at Yale. And because we believe that all students, including those from working families, should have equal access to the opportunities that the Yale experience provides, we stand behind Students Unite Now and their struggle against the Student Income Contribution.

Top Yale officials argue that Yale’s need-blind admissions and financial aid make the University a force for equality and diversity. But these same administrators refuse to listen to students who need this financial aid. By forcing students from working families to give their wages to the University, these administrators cause them to lose out on opportunities to study the things they love and engage in their communities. This is not quite the Yale experience they were promised in brochures. Low-income students are forced to choose between work and research opportunities, buying plane tickets home, sending money back to their family, getting necessary mental health care and investing in their relationships and communities at Yale. If Yale really cares about diversity and equity, why do they continue to ask their poorest students to do work unrelated to their studies in order to pay $4000–5000 every year to one of the richest universities in the world?

Yale could fix this, if the University just had its priorities straight. Yale could eliminate the Student Income Contribution by spending just $16.7 million. This amount of money is staggering for working families, but is just 0.061 percent of the market value of the endowment, just 0.45 percent of the University’s operating budget and less than three days of interest from the Yale endowment. $16.7 million is a small price to pay for Yale to live up to its rhetoric on meritocracy.

The Student Income Contribution also has a cost on the New Haven community by limiting the opportunities available to New Haven residents. In its attempt to fulfill a hiring commitment that it recently signed, Yale has recognized that there are challenges with hiring from New Haven and particularly New Haven’s low-income neighborhoods. One of these challenges has been the lack of entry-level work at the University, work exactly like that done by students to fulfill the Student Income Contribution. The same policy that harms Yale’s students from working families also indirectly harms New Haven’s working families. Why has Yale decided that it is better to have low-income students work entry-level jobs than New Haven residents, who could use these jobs as a track into a Yale career?

Our members are proud of a standard that allows us to support our families and give our children opportunities. But the children of our members would need financial aid to attend Yale, and we would want our children who were able to win acceptance to Yale to focus on their studies and have the greatest success they possibly could. We want this for working families at Yale, and we want this for working families anywhere in the world. Yale should do the right thing and eliminate the Student Income Contribution. We stand with students in their call for basic fairness.

Bob Proto is the president of Local 35. Contact him at proto@yaleunions.org .