On the fifth day of a graduate student-teacher fast taking place at the heart of Yale University, the sun-dazed but spirited protesters received a visit of support from a U.S. congressperson with deep roots in New Haven labor history.
On Saturday at noon in Yale’s Beinecke Plaza, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro paid a visit to the eight fasters and a few dozen supporters gathered beneath the sheer makeshift protest structure that has been standing between Beinecke Library and Woodbridge Hall since Wednesday.
By not eating or drinking anything but water and staying outside for an average of 12 hours each per day, the graduate student-teachers are seeking to get the university to negotiate a first contract with their newly formed union, UNITE HERE Local 33, which held elections earlier this year.
DeLauro, who attached a small, orange Local 33 pin to her blouse before joining the fasters beneath the tent, pledged her support for the “good trouble” the protesters were causing in this latest attempt to pressure the university to negotiate.
“Do I worry about you? Sure, I do,” she said. “But I also really admire you. And not just for this. You’ve been organizing for years for workers’ rights, for economic security and for access to mental health services. The result of that should be to be able to sit and have a dialogue in a peaceful way and in an intelligent way.”
She told the group about her longstanding support of UNITE HERE Local 34, a union of Yale’s clerical and technical workers who had to stage a strike in 1984 before the university would negotiate a first contract with them, but who today hold a position of power both at the university and in the city more broadly.
DeLauro also spoke about how her mother helped organize her garment workers’ union. She said her father used to tell her that successful companies are made successful by the quality of their workers and by the way they treat their workers.
DeLauro’s father’s research involved talking with the families of laid-off factory workers after the New Haven company had gone out of business. The two takeaways DeLauro wanted to share with the fasting student-teacher organizers: her father was never credited for his contributions to the book because he did not have a college degree, and many of the families he spoke to never recovered from the financial turmoil they experienced after the sudden layoffs and plant closure.
“It’s difficult when you feel like everything you believe in is under assault all at once,” said Charles Decker, a political science graduate student and one of the Local 33 fasters, to DeLauro. “But we’re trying to do our part here, just like you’re doing your part everywhere.”
“The role of unions in our society has been profound,” DeLauro said. “They have made workplaces safe. They provide for benefits. They ensure equal pay for equal work. They are the heart and soul of what this country is all about. So stand tall.”
DeLauro said that she was willing to use her office to do whatever she could to support the protesters. Her office has already donated several books that line the shelves at either end of the fasters’ tent.