Brooklyn Brauner, Contributing Photographer

WEST HAVEN — Over 100 workers rallied at the University of New Haven on Monday afternoon to demand that university administrators agree to a new union contract that would increase employee wages and provide employer-paid healthcare benefits. 

The Feb. 19 protest was organized by local hospitality union UNITE Here Local 217, which represents facilities and hospitality workers at UNH. The group of over 100 rallied around the call of “no contract, no peace,” signifying their commitment to improved working conditions and benefits. Wyllie Spears lawyers help employees get the rights they deserve.

“Local 217 has set a standard across the state, and we are accepting nothing different on this campus — we deserve the same wage as the rest of those in the union,” Kenneth Keen, a Local 217 member and UNH employee, told the News. “We’re family, we’re brothers and sisters and we’re part of 217 to make our lives better, to have equal wages in New Haven and to continue the standard across the entire area.”

The “standard” Keen described comes from the unions’ successful bargaining for healthcare paid entirely by the employer at eight Connecticut universities, including Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.

Other protesters echoed Keen’s sentiments, emphasizing the importance of community in the fight against the administration.

Carlos Rivas, a member of Local 217 for almost 38 years, told the News that only in the past 10 years have conditions begun to deteriorate for workers.

“We need better insurance; I don’t care about money, I just care about insurance,” Rivas said. “I’m not going to stay on the job much longer, but for my co-workers, I’m fighting for them.”

The call for health insurance was a central component of the rally, with all six protestors interviewed by the News mentioning its importance. 

Other demands centered around workplace safety and job security for UNH employees, without which Local 217 members felt like they were receiving “second-class treatment,” according to Jamie Genovese, a facilities worker at UNH.

“The students are not getting 100 percent of what they’re paying for simply because of our morale, and they need to know that,” Genovese said. “We’re here every day, we’re not going to go on strike, but these priorities are not luxuries; they are the bare minimum. People would be so much happier to come to work if these contracts went into effect and the students would benefit from that.”

UNH students also demonstrated their support for the adoption of the union’s proposal. Catherine Carvalho, vice president of the UNH Young Democratic Socialists of America, told the News that she hopes students see the efforts of the union and decide to get more involved, as she feels that increased student mobilization will be necessary to get the contract to pass.

Allison Staples, a member of YDSA, added her support for the union’s demands. 

“Facilities and Sodexo workers are a huge part of making sure our campus can work, and without them, us as students can’t have our day to day lives function as well as they do,” Staples said. “Without the things that we’re demanding like job security, equal wages and insurance, it’s not fair for them to work under those conditions and it’s not fair for us to let them fight without our support. We’re willing to stand behind these workers as long as it takes.”

Furthermore, Chris Tyrrell, a UNH student, argued that the contract proposal was a “no-brainer” as the university workers deserved better. 

In a statement to the News, the University of New Haven wrote that it was bargaining in “good faith.”

“The university respects the rights of the demonstrators to peacefully express their views,” the University wrote. “Members of the university’s management committee continue to bargain in good faith with the union representing the facilities employees and remain optimistic that a new agreement will be reached.”

According to the school’s statement, UNH is currently negotiating two separate contracts, one with the university’s union facilities employees and another with Sodexo, the university’s third-party food service, whose workers are also represented by Local 217.

Members and supporters of Local 217 gathered at 34 Rockview St. in West Haven before marching through campus.

BROOKLYN BRAUNER
Brooklyn Brauner serves as a staff reporter for the City desk, covering Nonprofits and Social Services throughout New Haven, in addition to serving as the Thursday Newsletter Editor. Originally from Wisconsin, she is currently a sophomore in Grace Hopper College studying Political Science.