NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The fast by Yale graduate teachers in Unite Here Local 33 will enter its 27th day as Yale’s Commencement processional wends its way through the New Haven Green on Monday, May 22. An unprecedented gathering of many thousands from New Haven, across the state of Connecticut, and up and down the Eastern Seaboard, will mark that day with a powerful show of unity and solidarity to demand that Yale stop stalling and negotiate a first contract now.
“The cause for which the graduate teachers are fighting does not belong to them alone. A secure living, fair benefits, a workplace free from racism and sexual harassment, and a voice in their conditions—these are the rights of all working people,” wrote 28 national labor, faith and social justice leaders and elected officials in an international solidarity statement. “We honor their spirit of unity, a powerful contrast to the spirit of Trump and his efforts to divide,” the sign-on statement concludes.
The stand being taken against the $25 billion Yale University has become a center of resistance to the Trump attack on working people and especially on unions.
Because of Yale’s position as an elite institution, the struggle of these graduate teachers has become a focus of resistance, not only to Trump personally, but to the whole gang of billionaire vulture capitalists in his cabinet and in his corner.
The case is compelling. The graduate teachers followed the letter of the law. They complied with the National Labor Relations Board requirements exactly and overwhelmingly won their union representation elections in eight departments.
But Yale continues to flout the law, stalling until Trump’s new NLRB is installed and empowered to overturn the decision that the graduate teachers have the right to a union and collective bargaining.
When Rep. Keith Ellison left his home in Minnesota on Mother’s Day and flew to New Haven to visit the encampment named “33 Wall St.”, he learned firsthand, taking careful notes, of the stories that led these graduate teachers to “fast against slow.”
The fasters explained that they need a union contract and grievance procedure to address sexual harassment experienced by a shocking 54% of female graduate students; to address the fact that there are only 30 African American male graduate students out of 3400; to address the lack of mental health and wellness programs, and to address poverty wages.
Rep. Ellison promised to push hard. As Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee he challenged Democrats to give all-out support, saying “If Democrats don’t stand up for collective bargaining, then what do they stand for?”
The majority of Unite Here members across the country are workers in hospitality and casinos. The union’s largest base is in Las Vegas, where Unite Here international president D. Taylor led a successful strike at the Frontier Hotel for six years, four months and ten days, before assuming his current position.
Taylor, who came to participate in the candle light march marking the beginning of the fourth week of the graduate teachers’ fast, said the union has put everything into this fight. “It is ground zero of the resistance for worker’s rights,” he said.
The struggle at Yale is an important national test of the ability of unions and workers to move forward in the Trump era.
This struggle has revealed that Yale, which institutionally claims to be opposed to many things Trump stands for, is in essence just another wealthy corporation that embraces Trump/Republican policies to protect its wealth and power.
The struggle is also important because it is crystallizing an alliance within the labor movement. Anchored by sister Unite Here locals 34 and 35, the university support staff, and the Yale Union Retirees Association, support has been pouring in from sheet metal workers and building trades to bus drivers and healthcare workers as well as the AFL-CIO.
At the same time, the struggle is forging new alliances between labor and the environmental movement and the community. Local 33 has not limited its attention to the immediate conditions of the graduate teachers. On their website, 33WallSt.org, they have exposed Yale’s corporate ties to the fossil fuel industry and environmentally destructive corporations, pulling the rug out from under the University’s claim to leadership on climate change. They have shed light on Yale’s ties to vulture capitalists like Trump’s Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross who have devastated communities including New Haven through plant closings and massive fraudulent home foreclosures.
Extraordinary organizing is being done by New Haven Rising, the union’s community allied organization. “Our fight is for jobs,” exclaims director Rev. Scott Marks, who leads nightly door knocking in neighborhoods with high unemployment, largely Black and Latino, making the connections to the graduate teachers struggle for a union.
The community that has emerged in solidarity with Local 33 is the hope for the future. Each day new visitors and conversations at the 33 Wall St site open up new and often unexpected relationships. Community groups and supporters come to hold their meetings there including the Democratic Town Committee, the Working Families Party and the Communist Party. Muslim, Christian and Jewish services have been held there. Families have celebrated special occasions there. Graduate teachers marched from there with immigrant workers on May Day. Rep. Rosa DeLauro and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp have visited numerous times. Dozens of young people are coming into leadership there.
On the first day of the fast, Local 33 president Aaron Greenberg said that he hoped the action would inspire joy in the struggle, provide strength and bring people together.
When the diverse outpouring of support becomes evident in the demonstration outside Yale’s commencement on Monday, May 22, the statement to Yale and Trump will be clear: no institution, even a $25 billion elite university, is too big to be forced to treat workers with dignity and respect. The graduate teachers and their many allies will call on Yale’s President Salovey to end the fast and sit down at the collective bargaining table.