As Yale’s union contract comes up for renewal, Ronice Awudu braved the rain with her 11-month-old son to join hundreds of coworkers calling for good jobs and benefits.
Yale union members and supporters took to downtown streets Wednesday afternoon for a lively march and rally entitled “Let’s Get to Work.” The event was billed as an act of solidarity for a new labor-affiliated coalition that came together a year ago. The coalition helped launch a new set of labor-backed candidates to victory, forming a supermajority on the Board of Aldermen.
Wednesday’s rally featured many people who were newcomers to politics when the coalition got together last year and have since landed positions as aldermen or Democratic Town Committee members. It was put together by the Yale unions and the Connecticut Center for a New Economy.
Organizers pegged Wednesday’s crowd at 2,000; police gave no official estimate.
The rally came as Yale’s UNITE HERE unions, pink-collared Local 34 and blue-collared Local 35, head toward negotiations over new labor contracts for some 4,700 workers. The current contracts, settled in a historic peaceful accord in 2009, are set to expire in January 2013.
The rally, the latest in a series of lively shows of force for the city’s new leading political force, made clear that organizers intend to merge municipal and university foci in their movement. The march started a block from City Hall. It ended up at Yale’s medical school.
Awudu (pictured above) had contract negotiations on her mind as she pushed her son Adrian across town in a stroller, hitting a pothole on Crown Street. Awudu, who’s worked at Yale for 10 years, said she has gone on strike before and is willing to do so again.
“We don’t want to have to go on strike,” she said. “I hope this allows us enough clout” to retain the benefits workers enjoy at Yale.
The contract loomed large in the chants that echoed through town as the group walked from the Green to Yale’s medical district.
The rally began in light drizzle around 6:15 outside the United Church on the Green, where Local 34 had just held a membership meeting.
The New-Haven based brass band Kings of Harmony led the way down Temple Street.
Signs called for “safe streets,” “great contracts,” “good jobs,” “organizing rights” and “youth opportunities.”
“What do we want? A contract!” workers chanted.
“We are the unions, the mighty mighty unions,” sang Beaver Hills Alderman Brian Wingate of Local 35. “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are, so we tell them ...”
Aldermen postponed a meeting of the Finance Committee by one hour so they could participate in the march.
Wingate paused at the corner of Temple and Crown to greet Major McCutchen, who said he has a good union job at Metro-North Railroad. McCutchen had stumbled across the march and started taking photos.
“What, are they laying people off?” he asked.
Yale President Rick Levin recently told the Yale Alumni Magazine that workers may face some cuts as the university faces a deficit for fiscal year 2013.
McCutchen said he supports the rally.
“In this down economy,” he said, “we need this right now.”
Yale workers were joined by youth activists at The New Elm City Dream ...
... the Young Communist League ...
... Students Unite Now!, a pro-union group of Yale undergraduates that formed out of last year’s aldermanic elections, ...
... and the occasional pooch.
As the group filed towards its final stopping point on Cedar Street, Rev. Scott Marks stopped to sing along with the band ...
... then asked them to quiet down as he squeezed in a few more chants before the rally began.
Hill Alderwoman and Democratic Town Committee Chair Jackie James got on a makeshift stage. She looked out at the crowd and said she saw a strong coalition of New Haveners, both employed and unemployed.
“This is how we’re going to get the jobs pipeline done,” she remarked.
West River Alderwoman Tyisha Walker, who works as a cooks helper in Yale’s Commons dining hall, delivered a message to Yale.
“I just want the university to know that we have no interest in going backwards,” she said.
After she spoke, the rain stopped.
“The clouds have parted,” remarked Local 34 President Laurie Kennington as she introduced the chair of the Graduate Employees and Student Organization, which has been trying to unionize for 20 years.
“That’s because GESO will finally win its fight.”
“We look forward to winning our next contract,” declared GESO chair Kate Irving from the stage.
Scott Marks ended the rally with a round of “we will be back!”
Sabina Earl (pictured at left with Betty Alford) of AFSCME Local 217 took the mic and belted out that chorus as the crowds filed away.