Service, University Workers Rally

Markeshia Ricks PhotoUNITE HERE members rallied on Yale University’s Cross campus Thursday as part of a national day of action to support union jobs particularly in the service industry.

Marching from First & Summerfield Church chanting, “We are the union, the mighty, mighty union,” the members gathered for a lunchtime rally to show support for people like Ornella John. Thursday’s rally was part of a national day of action orchestrated by UNITE HERE members in 40 cities across the country.

John’s mother, who died just last year, worked at the Omni for 18 years. She said the wages and benefits that her mother earned thanks to the Local 217 contract allowed her mother to give her and her siblings a great life. John, who is an immigrant from Trinidad, followed in her mother’s footsteps and has been with the Omni for 10 years as a server. She’s a single mom and she said has been able to provide for her child because she has a good union job.

“In 2018, our contract is up,” she said. “And we cannot allow anything to slip away. It why our sisters and brothers across the country are standing up—to fight for our future. We all deserve decent wages and benefits.”

“We” includes Yale graduate student teachers, too, said Lena Eckert-Erdheim, a doctoral candidate in history and member of Local 33 UNITE HERE. (Read here about Local 33’s ongoing struggle with Yale.) UNITE HERE also has locals representing blue-collar workers and office workers at Yale.

“I voted for my union,” Eckert-Erdheim said. “Right now at campuses across the country, teachers are negotiating contracts but not here at Yale because Yale is refusing to negotiate with us.”

That drew boos and hisses from the crowd.

“Today, we’re here and we’re joining tens of thousands of UNITE HERE members in 40 cities across North America,” she continued. “We’re all fighting for our employers to treat us with respect.”

Eckert-Erdheim said the concerns of the Yale graduate student teachers and hotel workers aren’t dissimilar. Graduate students want fair wages, affordable health care, and protections against sexual harassment just like hotel workers.

“Our struggles are connected,” she said. ” And now all of us have employers who are looking to the Trump administration and seeing a green light to come after working people.

“We’re not going to let that happen because we know that when we stand together and we fight together that we will win,” she added. “And we will win good jobs. We will get our employers to the negotiating table. We will contracts that make our employers treat us with respect. Let’s keep fighting to win.”

Rev. Scott Marks of the UNITE HERE-affiliated New Haven Rising group led the afternoon’s chants. He reminded the crowd that some of the members had to get back to work so he started off a different chant, “We’ll be back! We’ll be back!”  And with that folks filed out as orderly as they had come in headed back to work.


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posted by: 1644 on October 19, 2017  5:40pm

Graduate students already have free health care, protections against sexual harassment, and $30-$40K/year for a temporary, part-time, trainee job.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 20, 2017  8:27am

posted by: 1644 on October 19, 2017 5:40pm

Graduate students already have free health care, protections against sexual harassment, and $30-$40K/year for a temporary, part-time, trainee job.

But having a union will help them keep those benefits.

posted by: breakingbad23 on October 20, 2017  10:50am

I suppose these “Union” people only believe in majority rule when it comes to presidential elections and doing away with the electoral college. They have not produced a single vote in which a majority of grad students want to unionize, they haven’t even come anywhere close to a majority actually.

posted by: Mark Firla on October 20, 2017  11:47am

Certainly all graduate teachers do not, but maybe you are referring specifically to those folks who are teaching at Yale? If so, I wonder if the fact that they have been fighting for a union for over 20 years has had any impact on the material conditions of their employment? While I don’t actually know if the conditions you are describing are true, if they are, it would seem to be about the minimum we should expect from a “world class” university with a 27 billion endowment whose primary mission is teaching and education, no?

posted by: 1644 on October 20, 2017  12:33pm

Yes, I am referring to graduate students at Yale, because they are the ones who are the subject of the article.  Their working conditions can be verified through many means, e.g., Yale’s website, and comments from actual graduate students on this site, Facebook, and other sites, or just talking to graduate students.  I have no doubt that the University pays more attention to graduate school students today, and treats them better, than it did decades ago in large part because of the unionization pressures. In the last 30 years, there has been a massive increase in financial support and attention to graduate student quality of life. The conditions are, generally, as good or better than any of its peers, especially considering that its peers are located in higher cost areas (NYC, Boston, & Palo Alto).  As breaking bad says, the result is that the vast majority of graduate students do not want a union, and certainly not this union.  If you listen to them, i’ts not that they think their life is perfect.  It’s just the they don’t the benefits of unionization would outweigh the costs.  Those costs would mean dues, and another layer of bureaucracy and personalities to navigate to address any issues, and more rigidity in their research and teaching environments.  Moreover, the high-pressure tactics of UNITE-HERE have antagonized many students, such that the Graduate Student Senate, while being neutral on unionization, voted decisively against UNITE-HERE.  The message was, we are not sure if we want union representation, but we are sure that we do NOT want THESE people to represent us.

posted by: win win on October 20, 2017  2:51pm

A lot of people came out of the woodwork when Trump got elected. But these struggles are not new. They’re just on steroids now. Thankfully we have a vibrant movement here that’s been fighting for regular people for decades. I just hope more people open their eyes to the fact that we live in a town and state dominated by wealthy, powerful interests like Yale, the insurance industry, and hedge funds. What do you think it takes to negotiate with a $27 billion global institution? When people say they support labor in general, just not actually existent actually organizing unions, are you saying you want some bureaucratic, top-down, servicing union representing you when you’re at the table with this company?  If I were a grad teacher or adjunct I wouldn’t. Not when Yale hires the most notorious, high-paid union busting law firm in the country? When their corporate governance board is dominated by Bain Capital, Goodyear, PepsioCo and other Wall Street players. I would want people with a backbone and with a history of winning against Yale’s attempts to layoff, underpay, understand, outsource, And downgrade workers and quality of service

posted by: underground on October 20, 2017  4:55pm

@win win UNITE HERE’s organizing practices are coercive and toxic. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to ask for more, or to ask for unions that don’t rival Yale for brutality or manipulation.

posted by: 1644 on October 21, 2017  2:48pm

Winwin:  The GSA vote might be analogized to a marriage proposal from a stalker (and many of UNITE’s actions have literally been stalking:  repeatedly pestering students in their workplaces, labs, and at their homes).  The graduate student body is not ideologically opposed to unionization, but, if 33 is the only union available,  it would rather die an old maid.  A bad marriage to an abusive partner would be far worse than its present single life, which overall, isn’t that bad.

posted by: win win on October 22, 2017  7:18pm

So if organizing for workers’ rights is toxic, what is the administrations refusal to respect workers’ rights?

posted by: underground on October 23, 2017  2:49pm

@win win

Here’s the thing. We can’t use Yale/the ruling class to set the upper limit for toxicity and abuse among people ostensibly working for justice and equity. That’s dangerous, unhealthy, and I would argue unnecessary. Why can’t we have movements for justice and equity and worker’s rights that are also transparent and respectful and humane? Because Yale isn’t? Because the woods are dark and deep? I don’t buy it.