Christina Lee, Photography Editor

WEST HAVEN — On Monday, over 300 people gathered at the University of New Haven to protest in support of Local 217 UNITE HERE, the union of Hospitality Workers across Connecticut. 

The protest was against alleged union busting at the University of New Haven after UNH refused to guarantee job protection for its employees. Union workers, students and other allies of the facilities workers at UNH marched around the campus demanding job security after months of a stand-still with the university regarding contract negotiations.

The protest began with speeches from Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, State Senator Martin Looney and State Representative Bill Heffernan. 

“This community is with you on this. We recognize and support your courage,” Senator Looney said. “This economy — the whole economy of the region will only be helped if union jobs grow and expand. You cannot agree to something that allows for the gradual contraction of a bargaining unit. That is suicide.”

In her speech, Bysiewicz emphasized that the union’s request for job security is not only directed at supporting current union workers of UNH but also future generations.

“This fight is about [young people],” Bysiewicz said. “What are jobs gonna look like? Are they gonna be minimum-wage jobs with no benefits? Or are they gonna be good, dignified jobs that pay enough to support families?” 

Monday’s strike comes five days after Local 217 authorized a strike in response to UNH’s changed position on the unions’ demands for improved job security. On Feb. 19, Local 217 organized a rally to call for improved health insurance, workplace safety and job security for facilities workers. After about six months, the union began contract negotiations with UNH — one for facilities workers and another for Sodexo US, the university’s third-party food service. Over a month later, UNH ratified the contract, meeting all three conditions proposed by the food service employees of Sodexo US. After nearly reaching an official agreement, UNH reversed its stance on bettering job security.

In a written statement to the News, UNH defended the contract they presented to facilities workers.

“We believe that the significant wage increases and reduction in benefit costs, combined with the layoff protection and guarantee regarding hours, is a robust and competitive package for our valued facilities employees,” UNH wrorte.

Furthermore, UNH wrote that in the event of a strike, they are “fully prepared to take the necessary measures to ensure continued, successful operations, including maintenance of our facilities.”

Several union members, in addition to enthusiasm for striking, also voiced concern regarding the ramifications of a strike.

“These kids rely on us to provide a service for them. And as much as it’s gonna break our heart to walk away from that, I think it’s actually going to show them a lesson to stand up for what they believe in and what’s right,” said Joe Fowler, a custodian at UNH. “It’s nerve-wracking because I know how my coworkers live. They live paycheck to paycheck, and I know that they fear, you know, keeping the lights on and keeping food on the tables for their kids. And I have the same fears.”

Another union worker Damien Mercado in the maintenance department expressed skepticism about the university’s ability to maintain normal operations during the strike. 

“It’s gonna be a mess. It’s gonna be chaos here. It’s gonna be crazy because this place is a very busy place,” Mercado said. “We do a lot here. We run around this campus like crazy. It’s not as easy as people think it is.”

Employees from surrounding universities represented by Local 217 were also present at the protest.

“I know that sooner or later we’re going to have to go through the same thing,” said Tamera Jordan, an employee of Connecticut College. “I hope that they get their contract signed for the union because a union is best for all employees. It has great benefits to it. [The contract] needs to be long term because everybody needs us.” 

Union members of Local 33 UNITE HERE, the Yale graduate and professional student union, were also present at the protest, affirming their solidarity with Local 217. In December 2023, Local 33 won its first contract, which secured higher pay, expanded healthcare and union recognition until 2031. 

Arita Acharya GRD ’24, a graduate student at Yale and a member of Local 33, voiced her support of UNH facilities workers in an interview with the News.

“We’ve been in solidarity with Local 217 … I was here at the last picket and we just want a really great contract that contains job security, good wages and good health care. These workers deserve the same thing,” Acharya said. “We’re all workers in the academic labor movement … It’s similar, and I want to maintain the same strong, high standard we have at Yale [for] educational institutions all across Connecticut.”

After the press conference, protesters began marching around the perimeter of the campus green. As they marched, they chanted “If we don’t get it, shut it down.” 

Monday’s protest was held at 300 Boston Post Rd.

Correction, April 13: This article has been updated to reflect that approximately 300 people attended the rally, not 100.

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.