Natalie Kainz, Multimedia Managing Editor

Six years ago, Yale committed to hiring 500 New Haven residents from “neighborhoods of focus” by April 2019. It has now passed the threshold — two-and-a-half years after its original deadline.

When the University failed to fulfill its agreement on schedule, it made a revised commitment to hire 300 new residents from the targeted areas by the end of 2021. As of Oct. 31, the most recent data available, Yale was still 80 employees short of the goal. 

Chris Brown, director of the New Haven Hiring Initiative, told the News that between Jan. 1, 2019 and Oct. 31, 2021, the University hired 220 full-time employees, with 56 of those jobs being temporary to regular conversions in designated neighborhoods of focus. These neighborhoods include historically low-income areas and neighborhoods with large minority populations, such as the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods. Added to the pre-2019 count of 280 full-time employees in the designated areas, the University has hired 500 full-time employees, meaning it has reached the goal it set in 2015. Unions Local 34 and Local 35 are in the process of confirming the numbers, according to Brown and Ken Suzuki, secretary-treasurer of Local 34. 

“When 500 residents in those neighborhoods get jobs, jobs that are union jobs, that’s tens of millions of dollars in salary and benefits to bring into families and to uplift and stabilize families,” Suzuki said. “If there had been 500 in 2019 when COVID hit, hundreds more would have been situated to face that crisis. Forget about the 500, let’s look at the next 500.”

In 2015, Yale made a commitment to hire 1,000 New Haven residents with at least 500 of those residents coming from seven “neighborhoods of need” around the city: Fair Haven, the Hill, West River, Dwight, Dixwell, Newhallville and West Rock. The agreement came after continued pressure from unions and activists to make local hiring a priority for the University. Yale set April 1, 2019 as the deadline for the hiring targets. 

After Local 34 and Local 35 settled their 2017 contracts, Suzuki said they and the broader community began to refocus on Yale’s hiring commitments. 

“There was a clock ticking. It was a long clock,” Suzuki said. “Yale had made a commitment and the community was asking where are we in the commitment.”

Suzuki said that once the unions turned to the hiring targets, they found that the University was “nowhere near” filling the 500 jobs. He said that it was “quite shocking and also very concerning.”

As April 2019 neared, activists started calling out the University for not being close to its target. At a February 2019 Board of Alders hearing, hundreds of residents and community leaders criticized Yale’s failure to meet its hiring commitments. Although Yale’s representatives at that meeting told the city that it had met the terms of the agreement, the University clashed with union leaders and some alders for its methodology of determining which jobs and hires counted towards the total numbers. For example, the University counted certain positions such as subcontracted construction workers hired for short-term gigs as “full-time.” 

Members at the hearing criticized the University for failing to ensure that 500 positions would go to individuals from the designated “neighborhoods of need.” By the University’s count, the total number of individuals hired from the areas was 413. But by prominent union leaders’ counts, it was just 267.

After months of pressure from community activists and negotiations with union leaders, Yale unveiled a new agreement in August of 2019. In the agreement, the University recommitted to hiring employees living in New Haven and also established pathways to employment at Yale through measures such as training programs and investing in partnerships with local schools such as Gateway Community College. Notably, Yale committed to 300 additional hires from neighborhoods of need from 2019 to 2021.  

Suzuki said the unions are in the process of verifying the numbers that they had received from the University and said he could not give any comment on the numbers at this time.

Pointing to the recent union contracts as well as the $52 million increase in Yale’s voluntary contribution to the city, Suzuki noted this was the “moment” for Yale to do additional hiring.

In the 2022 labor agreement with Local 34 and Local 35, the University committed to continuing the New Haven Hiring Initiative program, which supports New Haven’s economic growth by connecting qualified city residents to open positions at the University, along with continuing support for its partnerships with New Haven Works, Local 34 and Local 35.

New Haven Works, started in 2013 by the Board of Alders and the city, trains New Haven residents and helps them get employed locally. According to its website, New Haven Works has helped over 1,500 of its members get hired since opening. Executive director of New Haven Works, Melissa Mason, said that over half of the people the program places come from low-income neighborhoods with over 80 percent being people of color.

While the program has worked with over 100 local employers, Mason said the University was one of the largest employers for New Haven Works. Suzuki said that the program was vital in providing residents with opportunities.

One resident who went through New Haven Works is Amber Suess, who works as a front-line services assistant at Sterling and Bass Library. She has been working in her current position for over a year, but first started at the library in 2018 as a temporary worker. She then moved to a fixed duration position -— a temporary worker who works for a fixed amount of time -— before being moved to the layoff pool in May 2020 when the pandemic hit. About a year ago, she was rehired at the library in a full-time permanent position.

Suess grew up in Connecticut and went to high school in New Haven. She moved to New Haven straight after high school and worked in food services. After realizing that working in food services would not provide her with any of the healthcare or benefits she wanted, she joined New Haven Works. Through the program, she received a job coach who informed her of open temporary positions at Yale’s libraries, which led to the full-time job she currently has. 

“It’s incredible to have the stability that I have now,” Suess said. “Since I started working at Yale, I am so much less stressed about my life.”

Suess said that one of the main benefits of the University job for her was the healthcare plan it offered. She added that growing up, her family did not have enough money for  private healthcare and she was always on state healthcare. It was only after becoming a fixed-duration worker at Yale that she was under a private healthcare plan for the first time in her life.  

Suess noted that she was very “lucky” and mentioned that she knew coworkers who had gone from being in the same temporary position as her to being laid off later and being “completely on their own.”

Suess said that Yale could do more in hiring residents. 

“It’s really upsetting,” Suess said. “I live in a neighborhood where one out of every three kids goes to bed hungry. I feel like they need to give more chances to people that live in New Haven because there are so many qualified people.”

Brown said that with the recent labor agreement, Yale remains committed to continuing “the ongoing cooperation and problem-solving of that partnership, and … [continuing] to develop and evolve pathway programs that would lead to employment for New Haven residents, particularly those from neighborhoods of focus.”

Local 34 and 35 ratified their most recent contracts with the University in October 2021.

Sai Rayala reports on Yale-New Haven relations. She previously covered climate and environmental efforts in New Haven. Originally from Powell, Ohio, she is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College majoring in History.