MLK Invoked In Call For Yale Local Hiring

Thomas Breen photoThe arc of the moral universe is long. And if local politicians, union leaders, and labor-sympathetic pastors have anything to say about it, that arc will bend directly towards New Haven’s largest employer: Yale.

That message was at the heart of Monday night’s annual Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day memorial service at Varick Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church at 242 Dixwell Ave.

One of the busiest nights of the year at one of the city’s largest, most historic, and most politically influential African American congregations, the nearly three-hour-long annual MLK Day service continually invoked the slain civil rights icon’s economic justice platform in an effort to pressure Yale University to hire more black and brown New Haveners.

“Y’all want to talk about closing down corner stores,” New Haven Rising Director Scott Marks implored, sweat pouring down his face at the end of an impassioned 20-minute speech. “But I’m talking about how do we get our people to stand up and feel like King’s dream is not a nightmare.”

A university spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment by the publication time of this article.

The parade of union advocates and working-class New Haveners who addressed the roughly 400 people packed in Varick’s nave on Monday night focused their attention almost exclusively on a late 2015 agreement between Yale University, the UNITE HERE Yale locals, and New Haven Works.

In that agreement, the university promised to hire 1,000 New Haveners to permanent, full-time jobs by Apr. 1, 2019. The university also committed at that time to hiring 500 of those 1,000 local workers from the city’s primarily African American and Latino working-class neighborhoods, including the Hill, Newhallville, Dwight, West River, West Rock, Fair Haven, and Dixwell.

West River Alder and Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker-Myers, who is also a steward with Yale’s blue-collar Local 35 union, earned enthusiastic applause when she told the church attendees that the Board of Alders will host a public hearing on the Yale hiring agreement in the Aldermanic Chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 6 p.m. on Feb. 21.

She said the aldermanic leadership has invited representatives from Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs to provide a status update at the Feb. 21 hearing on exactly how many New Haveners, and from which neighborhoods, the university has hired since the signing og the 2015 agreement.

“A good job means you have to work just one,” she said. “You have healthcare. You can take care of your kids. You can feed them and send them to college if you want to. That is what Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about.” That, she said, is what the local unions are fighting for.

Taking turns with percussive, joy-filled gospel performances that brought attendees out of their pews and into the aisles, nearly everyone who followed Walker-Myers at the pulpit spoke to the same theme of New Haven’s need for more good-paying jobs, Yale’s commitment to providing those jobs, and the public pressure required to make sure the university sticks to its word.

Laurie Kennington, the president of Yale’s pink-collar Local 34 union, recalled the gross wage disparities and culture of sexual discrimination that the university’s primarily female clerical and technical workers endured before winning union recognition and a first contract in the mid-1980s. The creation of the union came at the end of a 10-week strike, she recalled, during which Local 35 members and city residents stood in solidarity with the Yale employees.

“It is not enough that only a few of us in this city have these good jobs,” she said. “It’s just not right.” She called on working New Haveners to hold Yale accountable for the 1,000 local jobs its already promised, and to keep pushing for even more local hiring even after the university fulfills its initial commitment.

“King died fighting for working people,” Marks said, citing the sanitation workers’ strike that brought King in April 1968 to Memphis, Tennessee, where he was assassinated. The good jobs and good wages that King fought for and that allow for lives of dignity, he said, are what the Yale jobs hiring agreement is all about.

Rebecca Corbett, a longtime employee of Yale’s dermapathology department, said she was a single mom on welfare and was homeless before she landed a union job at Yale after completing a city resident job-training program two decades ago.

“That program literally saved my life,” she said. She said her union job allowed her to buy her first house, shed fears of eviction and slumlords, save money, raise her kids, and even go on the occasional vacation.

“As long as my legs will hold out,” she said, “and my voice will speak, I’m gonna be out there in the streets” supporting Yale’s unions.

Varick Pastor Kelcy Steele rounded out the service with a keynote address-cum-sermon that extolled the endurance of New Haven’s unions and called on Yale to “turn away from their wicked ways” and hire locally and from communities of color.

“Where will we be on April 4,” he asked the congregation, “three days after the deadline for the Yale hiring agreement [and the 51st anniversary of King’s assassination]? Will we be honoring King’s life and his vision for human freedom? Will we be on the path that’s finally moving our city forward?”

Click on the Facebook Live videos below to watch excerpts from Monday night’s service.




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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 22, 2019  8:45am

Dr.Martin Luther King’s Dream has been co-opted by the Black Elite.As I look at some of the pictures.If Dr.King was Here today he would have march on the Sell out politicians along with Black Judas Goat leaders and Black modern-day Pharaoh sell out Preachers help the selling of white politicians to there black congregants.Dr.king would have march on the Alders who voted unanimously in favor of a resolution for that war hawk and Drug king pin.George H.W. Bush.Dr.King would have march on those who have sold there souls to the gentrification vampires who have help to the Homeless poor and working class people.He even called out the White liberals.


l An excerpt from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s book Where Do We Go from Here – Chaos or Community?

A leading voice in the chorus of social transition belongs to the white liberal…. Over the last few years many Negroes have felt that their most troublesome adversary was not the obvious bigot of the Ku Klux Klan or the John Birch Society, but the white liberal who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers tranquility to equality….The White liberal must see that the Negro needs not only love, but justice. It is not enough to say, “We love Negroes, we have many Negro friends.” They must demand justice for Negroes. Love that does not satisfy justice is no love at all. It is merely a sentimental affection, little more than what one would love for a pet. Love at its best is justice concretized. Love is unconditional. It is not conditional upon one’s staying in his place or watering down his demands in order to be considered respectable….The white liberal must rid himself of the notion that there can be a tensionless transition from the old order of injustice to the new order of justice….

Part One.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 22, 2019  8:49am

Part Two

The Negro has not gained a single right in America without persistent pressure and agitation….Nonviolent coercion always brings tension to the surface. This tension, however, must not be seen as destructive. There is a kind of tension that is both healthy and necessary for growth. Society needs nonviolent gadflies to bring its tensions into the open and force its citizens to confront the ugliness of their prejudices and the tragedy of their racism.It is important for the liberal to see that the oppressed person who agitates for his rights is not the creator of tension. He merely brings out the hidden tension that is already alive. Last Summer when we had our open housing marches in Chicago, many of our white liberal friends cried out in horror and dismay: “You are creating hatred and hostility in the white communities in which you are marching, You are only developing a white backlash.” I could never understand that logic. They failed to realize that the hatred and the hostilities were already latently or subconsciously present. Our marches merely brought them to the surface….
The white liberal must escalate his support for racial justice rather than de-escalate it…. The need for commitment is greater today than ever.

This is the real Dr.king

Dr. MLK Jr.: Struggling Not To Lose Him.

posted by: robn on January 22, 2019  12:50pm

The six years of self-serving union occupation of our Board of Alders needs to come to an end. Vote them out!

posted by: jamesj@newhaven on January 22, 2019  12:50pm

Paul whatever happened to New Haven Works???  They got all that state and city money to help people get jobs and what did they do other than place people in temp jobs?  Are they still around?  What have they accomplished with the funding they got?

posted by: Noteworthy on January 22, 2019  1:16pm

Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple and disdained the Pharisees and Sadducees. His message would be the same today.

posted by: wendy1 on January 22, 2019  1:27pm

Paul—-JamesJ——New Haven Works was a lie and a Yale PR scam.  I quit and later so did the head, Mary Reynolds (Local 34).

posted by: Conscience on January 24, 2019  9:55am

That many of the people commenting are attacking the good people at the celebration instead of the military-techno complex that drains so much off the backs of poor and working class people is telling. I guess it is easier to support a university that memorializes bigots than to show concern for the remnant of those that said bigots exploited.
Unions were a vital factor in the struggle to end slavery via the Free Soil Party , and although unions have struggled with the racism and sexism within their own ranks; they have been a major force in our attempts at greatness. We are not there yet, but there are good people who want “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for others than themselves. Hats off to Reverend Steele and Scott Marks, and for Tyisha Walker and Laurie Kensington for sounding the prophetic voice in these troubled times. They are only asking for the right to work. It does my heart good to see a the multicolored coalition of people standing up for the right to work.

posted by: robn on January 24, 2019  10:20am


Worse than no results is six years of gargantuan tax hikes, continued lack of opportunity for the poor, little improvement to managing our education system, all adding up to disastrous results that can’t be blamed upon others (I don’t think dissolution of the Pentagon was an expected result of electing a UNITE supermajority to our board of aldermen so they own our poor state of affairs).