Daniel Zhao

In a notable victory for community activists, Yale struck a hiring agreement with local unions earlier this month that will potentially impact thousands of New Haven residents’ future job prospects.

After months of pressure, Yale unveiled a written agreement with its affiliated unions and a number of local labor organizations increasing its commitment to hiring employees living in New Haven. The agreement, which includes deadlines on hiring local residents as well as longer-term perpetual agreements meant to strengthen a pipeline from New Haven organizations and programs to Yale employment, represents a labor win in a back-and-forth battle between the city’s politically powerful unions and the University.

“Working with Yale’s unions and several community partners, we have focused our recruitment efforts on hiring New Haven residents, particularly those who live in neighborhoods with high unemployment rates,” Karen Peart, director of University Media Relations, told the News in an August statement. “We have, and continue to, reach out to many community groups, hold job fairs, and listen to ideas on how to match candidates to Yale positions.”

On Aug. 12, members of Locals 34 and 35 — Yale’s clerical and technical and maintenance unions, respectively — gathered at an event hosted by New Haven Rising, a local advocacy group that has long been at the center of labor pushes.

At the meeting, union leaders Local 34 President Laurie Kennington ’01 and Local 35 President Bob Proto joined New Haven Rising founder and local organizer Scott Marks to unveil the terms of a new agreement inked with Yale. Local 34 and 35 are both part of the umbrella union organization UNITE HERE.

In an interview with the News, Kennington stressed that the agreement means that $40 million dollars of additional wages will go into low-income neighborhoods in New Haven annually.

“The seven poorest neighborhoods in our city are not struggling by accident. They are the same communities that were redlined 70 years ago and have struggled ever since. This agreement is a bold commitment to put resources into reversing years of racism and structural inequity,” Kennington said.

The terms again include concrete hiring targets, but also establish pathways to employment at Yale through measures such as training programs and increased monetary investment into local partnerships with schools such as Gateway Community College. The aim of these measures is to foster apprenticeship and training within the city limits.

The struggle between the University and the city’s powerful labor unions has spanned decades, especially as New Haven and its residents have grappled with a lack of economic opportunities and job availability.

In February, hundreds of residents and community leaders packed a Board of Alders hearing and criticized Yale’s hiring commitments to the local community — commitments made in an agreement between several local unions and Yale in 2015. That agreement, which came after sustained activist pressure, pushed local hiring as a priority for the University. It also required that Yale hire 1,000 Elm City residents — with half or more coming from low-income disadvantaged communities designated as “neighborhoods of need” — by April of this year.

Although Yale’s representatives at that meeting told the city that it had met the terms of the agreement, the University still faced harsh criticism from union leaders and some alders for its methodology of determining which jobs and hires counted towards the total numbers.

The city and University clashed over certain positions such as journeymen construction workers hired for short-term contracts and whether their “full-time” status reflected the reality of such hires, which still had no guarantee of long-term stability. By the University’s count, the total number of individuals hired from neighborhoods of need was 413. But by prominent union leaders’ counts, it was just 267.

Since then, union and local community members have continued to pressure Yale to bolster ties with New Haven’s residents. Union, church and political leaders have hosted meetings and rallies demanding that the University contribute more. They emphasized the impact that a full-time job — and its related benefits — can make in the lives of local residents, particularly those from districts that have suffered from worse economic prospects and historical redlining.

Mayor Toni Harp, who has received endorsements from UNITE HERE unions in this year’s highly competitive mayoral election, told attendees in August that, “New Haveners need good jobs.” Other speakers highlighted the benefits and salary of union employment at Yale — which offers some of the most competitive compensation packages anywhere in the Nutmeg State.

In February, testifiers at the hearing specifically criticized, among other issues, Yale’s practice of outsourcing its construction and building projects to external contractors, instead of hiring local crews. Acknowledging that criticism, the new deal also commits Yale to requiring that construction contractors hire designated percentages of their crews from the Elm City.

Another major criticism of Yale’s upholding of the 2015 commitment surrounded hires from neighborhoods of need. Even excluding faculty hires, who are usually highly educated individuals, the University met its total agreement of 1,000 local hires in four years. However, Yale failed to ensure that 500 positions would go to individuals from neighborhoods of need — historically low-income minority communities such as Dixwell and Newhallville.

Yale has now committed to 300 additional hires from neighborhoods of need by 2021. The agreements also come on top of the University’s existing individual contracts with its unions.

Peart told the News that the University has a “long-standing commitment in our home in New Haven,” adding that hiring remained a priority in that commitment. She underscored that the University was “most enthusiastic about the creation of new pathways to careers at Yale.”

Leaders and community members celebrated the new agreement but remained wary. They  reminded attendees at the August meeting that it would be necessary to hold the University accountable for its promises.

Local 34 entered its most recent contract with the University in 2017.

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu