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NEW HAVEN—As college students begin their first full week of classes at Yale University today, a major strike of thousands of the university’s employees drags into its 13th day.
The strike—the second in under a year to occur at Yale, a university with a long history of labor strife—has brought luminaries such as the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson to New Haven, but no resolution to the dispute between the administration and the workers.
At the core of the workers’ grievance are demands for higher wages and pension benefits, the same issues that led workers to strike for five days in March.
The picket lines—manned by workers ranging from secretaries to custodians to dietary workers—began on the day Yale’s dormitories opened to upperclass students.
Jackson rallied workers and met with Yale President Richard C. Levin the following afternoon.
“It was a very productive meeting,” Jackson said, adding that Levin “felt the workers at the bottom deserved a better deal than they had.”
But the meeting did not lead to an agreement.
On the sixth day of the strike, Jackson was arrested along with over a dozen other union supporters for disorderly conduct when they obstructed traffic at an intersection in protest.Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean also expressed support for the striking workers at a rally. Dean was in town to drop off his daughter, a Yale student.
Two unions in the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International form the core of the strike.
Local 34, which includes secretaries and technical workers, has picketed outside major university buildings with the custodians and maintenance workers from Local 35.
The two unions, which represent about 4,000 workers at Yale, were joined by over 100 dietary workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The hospital workers are members of Service Employees Industrial Union District 1199.
Tom Conroy, a Yale spokesperson, said the proportion of unionized workers who showed up for work indicates that the university’s offer “is a good offer.”
According to Conroy, 59 percent of Local 34 workers showed up for work, although he added that a larger percentage of Local 35 members had not crossed picket lines.
Josh R. Eidelson, a Yale sophomore who is a spokesperson for the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, said the university has underestimated the number of workers out on strike.
“Essentially, they made 500 workers disappear,” Eidelson said of Yale’s tally.
The picket lines have had mixed results.
While some classes have been relocated to off-campus locations, most have not. The strike also resulted in the rescheduling of the annual assembly for first-year students.
Dorie Baker, from Yale’s Office of Public Affairs, said the first day of pickets blocked incoming first-year students’ entrance through Phelps Gate, a major entryway to the university’s Old Campus.
Conroy said he did not expect the pickets to disrupt campus activity significantly.
“We’ve done a lot of contingency planning for the strike,” he said. “We’re going to meet students’ needs inside and outside the classroom.”
Conroy also said he did not think many students would be deterred from crossing picket lines to enter buildings, and that the pickets were not much of a deviation from Yale’s normal atmosphere.
“It’s always kind of chaotic,” he said.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. has stepped into the role of mediator in the ongoing negotiations.
According to the university, Local 34 members average an annual salary of $33,000 and are seeking a 4-percent raise in the first year of renegotiated contracts, increasing to 7 percent in the sixth year. Local 35 workers reportedly make more than $30,000 per year and are seeking a 3-percent raise in the first year with an increase to 5 percent in the sixth year.
Yale has also claimed that its pension benefits would compensate workers with between 83 and 92 percent of their final salaries, although union officials have questioned the university’s calculation of those figures.
Retired workers who are no longer members of locals 34 and 35 have been pushing for retroactive increases in their pension benefits.
Negotiations between the unions and Yale officials are ongoing.
Local 34 workers stayed out on strike for 10-and-a-half weeks in 1984, and Local 35 remained on strike for 13 weeks in 1977.
Those two strikes were the longest in the unions’ histories.
—Staff writer Alexander J. Blenkinsopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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