Tyson Odermann, Contributing Photographer

WEST HAVEN — Over 100 facilities and hospitality workers and supporters joined together at the University of New Haven on Monday afternoon to protest the status of contract negotiations.

In a vote that took place last week, 94 percent of workers at UNH, represented by local hospitality union UNITE Here Local 217, voted to authorize a strike. The vote came after weeks of what union officials described as productive negotiations, during which they say UNH reversed its position on a key job security provision.

Those in the crowd held signs saying “We don’t want to strike, but we will!” sending a message to the university that if a new, fair contract isn’t ratified soon, workers will strike. 

Local 217’s chief negotiator Josh Stanley GRD ’18 told the News that workers went into contract negotiations with three main aims — higher wages, affordable, good health care and job security. 

Stanley said that the job security they are aiming for is protection of facilities jobs for union workers instead of subcontractors.

“The workers had seen, over the past 14 years, the number of facilities workers at the University of New Haven go down from 52 to now 35 at the same time that the university has expanded by 50 percent,” Stanley told the News.

The University of New Haven did not respond to a request for comment from the News.

Stanley said that many of the unionized workers are being replaced by subcontractors after they leave the university.

Since the union’s last protest on Feb. 19, Stanley said that food service workers at the university employed by Sodexo and represented by the union were able to ratify a contract with all three of these conditions met. Stanley said that gave the union a path to have conversations with the university to answer questions about wage and healthcare concerns. But after seemingly coming to an agreement with the contract, UNH reversed its stance on this job security provision. 

Soon after this reversal, union workers voted to authorize a strike, giving them the ability to strike in the case that negotiations fall through.

Joe Fowler, a custodian at UNH, expressed the anger he said university workers feel since UNH changed its negotiating position.

“We had this feeling that it was finally coming to an end and that we were making progress. Then we got slammed with that,” Fowler said. “So here we are with probably one of the most important decisions that we’re gonna have to make pretty soon,” he said, referring to going on strike.

Chris Morrison, who’s worked as a custodian at UNH for 20 years, voiced his concern about seeing his co-workers retire and be replaced by dozens of outside contractors.

“I know we had to do what we had to do,” Morrison. 

Members of the community voiced their support for the union members staying strong in authorizing a strike.

Rev. Scott Marks, Director of New Haven Rising, gave an invigorating speech to the workers.

“For us today, the picket line feels good. But when you start to talk about strike, you’re talking about people’s families. You’re talking about people’s children. You’re talking about people’s lives, and we’re not going to stand down until we get what we need to take care of our families,” Marks said.

Workers at UNH have not gone on strike yet but reserve the right to if contract negotiations fall through. 

According to Stanley, union workers are open to “creative solutions” from the university to secure job security from outside contractors.

The protest was held at 424 Boston Post Rd. in West Haven. 

Tyson Odermann is a first-year in Pauli Murray College from Parshall, North Dakota. He covers business, unions, and the economy in the city of New Haven.