How The Bow-Shed Crew Outwitted Yale

Paul Bass PhotosWhile graduate student demonstrators diverted the cops’ attention at two other locations, 30 supporters of a union protest fast slipped onto Yale’s Beinecke Plaza and swiftly erected a 25-foot-tall structure that has become a festive “Occupy Wall Street”-style gathering spot — and a headache for the university.

The arching plywood and plastic structure, dubbed “33 Wall Street,” is called a Stimson bowshed or boat shed. Members and supporters of UNITE HERE Local 33 — the new union representing some graduate student teachers — managed to build it in under an hour last week on Beinecke Plaza directly in front of the Yale president’s office.

Since then it has become a 24-hour gathering place for supporters of a fast staged by eight Local 33 leaders to protest Yale’s refusal to negotiate a first contract. (Click here, here, and here for previous coverage of both the protest and both sides’ arguments on the underlying issues.)

The eight fasters, who in the first six days of the water-only fast have grown visibly weaker but remain mentally alert, spend their days on couches inside the structure there, surrounded by supporters. When the fasters decamp to First & Summerfield Church at night to sleep, reinforcements move in to guard the fort. Professors have held class on picnic tables placed on an adjacent patch of artificial grass. Students and community members come just to hang out. On Monday afternoon bassoonist Erica Holahan and French horn player James Berger serenaded the group with a Mozart cello sonata, among other numbers. A U.S. Congresswoman and a U.S. senator have stopped by to pledge support; Rabbi Herb Brockman brought a cantor to conduct a Friday night Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Even opponents of the union drive have been drawn to the scene. College Republicans held a barbecue steps away one evening in an effort to weaken the fasters’ resolve. (“Didn’t faze us,” insisted faster Aaron Greenberg.) On Sunday afternoon someone paid to have Yorkside Pizza deliver 200 pies, which the fasters had re-routed to a feed-the-hungry church drive on the Green.

With each day, the encampment attracts more attention, including national media coverage, for Local 33’s cause. And it ups the pressure on Yale’s administration, which faces a no-win choice at this point: Tear down the encampment, and risk looking brutishly intolerant of free speech? Or leave up an embarrassing source of criticism that elevates a cause it would like to keep out of the public eye, weeks before thousands descend on campus for graduation, then thousands more for alumni reunions?

Yale has sent cops and high-ranking officials to the encampment daily to inform the protesters they are there without a permit. But officials won’t say if they plan to tear down the structure.

Asked Monday if Yale plans to leave the structure alone or raze it, spokesman Tom Conroy said the university has “nothing to add” on the subject beyond its previous statements, which failed to address the question. “The demonstrators have been formally notified that their continuing presence and the structure do not comply with university policies on free expression,” the most recent statement stated.

Yale may not have found itself in this predicament if not for some clever strategic planning on behalf of Local 33.

The planning began about a week before the structure went up. Organizers found this design online. Resembling a greenhouse, it is known as both a bowshed, for its shape, and a boatshed, for its common use for craft-building.

Thirty-some students, including engineering students, union members and community supporters, including some with woodworking and theater set-design experience, assembled the plywood and plastic and rented a box truck to bring the materials to assemble on Beinecke Plaza.

They had to drive a half block on Wall Street from the intersection of College to get there. Yale bought the street there from the city. It keeps the street open to traffic for the most part, but doesn’t have to. The shed-builders needed to make sure they could get through.

So Local 33 organized two protest actions last Wednesday morning to divert the attention of university officials and cops. The fasters assembled outside the university president’s house on Hillhouse Avenue. “President Salovey can end the fast,” they chanted.

Simultaneously, other Local 33 members assembled in Woolsey Hall to commit civil disobedience by disrupting a scheduled speech by Salovey as part of a “Bulldog Days” event for potential freshman accepted to Yale.

The truck passed up the block without interference. The 30 shed-builders made quick work of erecting the structure — and Yale had a problem on its hands.

Yale cops subsequently closed off the block to traffic. But it was too late.

“It has become a vital community space,” Greenberg noted Monday afternoon as he and other fasters huddled in sleeping bags or parkas, feeling chills after six days without food. They all remained lucid in conversation; Greenberg, a political science student, said he has trouble at this point focusing enough to work on his dissertation. Fellow faster Tif Shen shared a couch, still able to navigate calculations for his algebraic geometry dissertation. “My mind feels very clear,” said faster Robin Canavan as she had her vital signs checked, but her body felt tired.

On another couch, faster Charles Decker was working his way through Anne Moody’s Coming of Age in Mississippi, sitting beside fellow faster Emily Sessions, who was rereading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale before watching the new Hulu interpretation.

All the fasters said the structure has fortified their fast, between the visitors it has drawn and the light rain from which it has shielded them.

“It’s the sort of public meeting space that hasn’t existed on campus,” Decker observed. He said visitors noted no other picnic tables outside of gated property at Yale.

“I love that [it] has brought the community together, that it’s a meeting space,” Sessions said. “It’s very heartening.”

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posted by: SLP on May 1, 2017  5:06pm

As noted by previous commenters in other stories on this topic, these fasters and Local 33/UNITE HERE do not actually represent the majority of graduate students at Yale. Nor are these media-courting protesters responsible for some of the accomplishments they claim as their own—instead, existing graduate school student organizations are. Go to to read interesting and credible narratives from other Yale graduate students who aren’t necessarily opposed to unionizing ... just to the harassing tactics, political posing, and self-aggrandizing drama of Local 33/UNITE HERE.

posted by: wendy1 on May 1, 2017  7:10pm

I want to thank all the Yale employees who have had the bravery to support and/or visit Local 33 fasters.  I have been looking for musicians or dancers to entertain them and I will pay cash.
Yale has enough $$ to rescue the state as well as the city.  Conroy, Salovey, and others are not yet listening…but their situation and their inner lives would so much improve if they listened, opened their minds, and helped us.  Money is a tool not a goal.  Their paper moon endowment could change or save so many New Havenites, students, teachers, employees…..NOW while that paper is actually worth “something”.....My life changed immensely last year because I gave.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 1, 2017  8:16pm

These little Snowflakes have a benefit package of cash, healthcare and free education - that if reporting is correct, is worth $500K. That’s not enough for the entitled crowd?

posted by: TheMadcap on May 1, 2017  9:07pm

“reporting is correct, is worth $500K.”

The stipened is an average of about $32,000 a year. The health insurance while amazing, along with tuition, i doubt adds up to $467,000. Also if you could for actually read any of the articles and their complaints instead of immediately proselytizing you might know a lot of their complaints are not financial.

posted by: Nashstreeter on May 1, 2017  10:23pm

Paul, that’s a baritone horn, a non-fancy name for a euphonium.  I’m looking forward for when there’s an entire brass band (plus bassoon) out there.

posted by: Jay Blue on May 1, 2017  11:00pm

Poor things! Not very forward-thinking, are we now?  You are teaching assistants to learn how to teach like professors, so that you can become professors. You’re supposed to learn how difficult it is to lecture, answer questions, grade papers, all the while writing that “biggy” of a paper: your dissertation. It’s sort of a “blood, sweat and tears” sort of experience…one that earns you the honor and respect due a college or university professor.  That respect cannot be earned by sitting in a tent, refusing to eat, refusing to work, expecting to take down an entire university on your whim of undue entitlement.  You’ve not earned that yet. If you graduate and seek a professorial post, do you really think there is going to be a faculty union for you to join?  Doubtful. You will need to start in the “junior” leagues and work your way up, publish or perish, make a name for yourself.  Oh, yes, I forgot. You have made names for yourselves…and they’ve been published all over the country!!! You are famous! Congratulations; your reputation is preceding you! You are highly likely to earn a position at McDonald’s. Is there a university that will hire a Yale grad who complained so much about their student teaching experience that they resorted to holding themselves hostage in a tent and starved themselves silly. Smart move! Oh, and another thing…how terribly you insult the hungry and homeless, the hopeless poor of our city and many others around the country. You have been given free tuition for the highest degree one can achieve, a nice stipend and free health care. You “starve” out of your abundance, knowing you can break that fast at any moment and be satiated to capacity, and then some. Imagine those who can never break their fast nor feel completely full or satisfied by life or liberty, having no pursuit of happiness available to them.  Start thinking ahead.  Respect those who earned it the hard way, like President Salovey. Your PhD is depending on it!

posted by: Peter99 on May 2, 2017  5:24am

I wonder what their plan is to survive in the snow and bitter cold season?

posted by: 1644 on May 2, 2017  8:34am

Jay Blue:
Many lesser schools, including UConn, and I believe, Bridgeport, have unionized faculties.  Google AAUP.
Madcap: Noteworthy included the “free education” in his valuation.  Doctoral candidates pay no tuition.  GSAS tuition is just a bit south of $40K, so 4X$40 = $160K.  ( Terminal GSAS master’s degree students are charged full tuition. Most professional schools students award aid based on-need.)  Humanities students get about $30K/year for six years, or $180K.  Biomedical and science students get higher living stipends.  Doctoral candidates also get free health insurance, a value of at least $10K/year for a single person, more for families.  According to commentator Theresa M., students can also earn up to $8K/year teaching beyond their program’s minimum. 
The key to the NLRB decision was that helping teach was separate and apart from studying and researching.  Grad students were employees in the former role, and students in the latter.  Yes, Yale requires some teaching to get a PhD.  However, Yale undercuts its argument that teaching fellowships are simply part of the acidic training program by allowing GSAS help teach much more than the requirements, and also by allowing professional school students to help teach.  In fact, I read that the union won the PoliSci vote not with the votes of PoliSci students, but with the votes of law students helping teach PoliSci courses. 
  Many of the complaints, e.g., high junior faculty turnover, trouble with theses’ defense, termination of stipend aid,  mental health, etc.,  seem to address issues tied not to their role as employees , but to their students.  The one big issue, which is speculative, would be section size as the College expands.

posted by: 1644 on May 2, 2017  8:55am

Academic, not acidic, although the latter is funnier.  (Auto-correct strikes again.)

posted by: HewNaven on May 2, 2017  10:34am

My biggest fear for Yale : what happens when the thousands of starving New Haven residents decide to protest on campus, build tents, etc. Will they ever be so organized? It sounds like many of these commenters already support them, but it may just be lip-service to make a point. Can’t tell if they actually care about this stark divide in our community.

posted by: JCFremont on May 2, 2017  12:26pm

It would help the understanding if some like say a journalist at the New Haven Independent explain the academic package these students receive. Explain what a stipend is, basically funds that helps pay the rent, fill up a Romeo’s, Blue State, pay the electric bill etc. This money is taxable to the federal and state agencies even though no taxes are withheld, so that tax bill in april kind of puts a hit in the house finances. If you are on full scholarship that 40 to 45k goes just for tuition, if some goes to room and board and the health plan that is called taxable scholarship. Teaching wages are either additional income or part of the stipend. It would also help to explain where and how the scholarship and stipend funds come from yes I’m sure some comes from the university endowment but I’m sure not all. A break down might help the union, not too many “struggling” union and non-union dare I say “working families,” see you as modern day Wobblies.

posted by: branfordvoter on May 2, 2017  9:39pm

It is disturbing that certain would-be Local 33 members, including Alder Greenberg, believe it is appropriate to use a hunger strike in a labor union recognition proceeding.  Yale is still entitled to an appeal to the NLRB.  But even if it weren’t, is this how Locals 34 and 35 also intend to pursue labor negotiations in the future?  Is this how the Alders tied to those unions plan to handle New Haven’s legislative affairs?  Is this how certain graduate students intend to act if they are disappointed in their academic progress?  Where is the sense of proportion? 
What’s really going on here?

posted by: eliantonio on May 3, 2017  9:09am

Arrest them all for trespassing.
Not one if these people were forced to come to this prestigious institution and the vast majority of them will become quite comfortable in the nit so distant future.
Coal miners, fruit pickers, steel workers- these are REAL union workers who are getting screwed, these drama infused students should be doing their homework not building shanty towns next to one of the greatest collection of books in the world.  Bring in the fire hoses

posted by: 1644 on May 3, 2017  9:36am

Greenberg should be getting his PhD this year, this being his sixth year at GSAS,  but I believe he has stated that he is nowhere near done with his thesis, blaming delays in getting source material.  So, as of this year, he will now longer get a stipend.  He will join other superannuated students in being dependent on outside work, loans, and whatever teaching work he is able to get to support himself.  The biggest real issue here seems to be support for those beyond five or six years. Because they do not get stipends, 33 says Yale is paying “senior” and “experienced”  “teachers” less, although the stipend is separate and apart from their teaching.  Moreover, GSAS says their “teaching” is, indeed, student teaching:  its primary purpose is to teach GSAS students how to teach.  Thus, priority for teaching fellowships is given to new students who need the experience, not to those who already have it.  The fact is that the university wants candidates in and out in five years, although it has conceded to six for some students.  The university’s generous support for five or six years is meant to enable students to concentrate on their theses without the need for outside income (working for Starbucks or a union).

posted by: 1644 on May 3, 2017  2:05pm

JC:  The university’s budget is available on line.  Money is fungible, but unlike the professional schools, GSAS does not float on its own bottom.  It has relatively few resources of its own, and is, in essence, subsidized by the College.  The graduate school charges tuition to terminal master’s degree candidates, so it has some income there.  It has a few specific endowments for specific purposes, and its trying to raise more.  Each year, 13% of GSAS alumni contribute about $800K for current operations.  In contrast, 30% of College alumni contribute about $21 million every year, and College parents contribute another $3 million.  Overall, the endowment, the lion’s share contributed by College alumni offer the centuries, contributes close to 40% of the university’s budget.  Many graduate students in the sciences receive direct support through competitive grants. This is very rare in the humanities, as there are few grants available.  Increasing funding for PoliSci students would mean: (a) increasing College tuition, (b) decreasing College aid packages, (c) reducing quality of life and work initiatives, (d) laying off support employees, (e) substituting even more non-ladder faculty for ladder faculty,  and/or (f) spending endowment principal such that the real, and perhaps even nominal, value of the endowment decreases over time.