Yale grad student fasters redirect New Haven pizza delivery, visit with Blumenthal
NEW HAVEN >> The eight fasting graduate school teachers and members of Local 33 Unite Here who have forsworn eating until Yale University officials agree to negotiate a contract continued through their fifth full day Sunday, getting plenty of support — even if some of the “support” was of the sarcastic variety.
Two days after Yale College Republicans held a fragrant barbecue just steps away from the Local 33 tent-like shelter erected opposite President Peter Salovey’s office on Beinecke Plaza off Wall Street, the owner of New Haven’s venerable York Side Pizza showed up late Sunday afternoon with a stack of steaming pizzas.
An “anonymous Yale alumnus” called York Side, paid for the pizzas and had $200 worth delivered to the plaza while a reporter was interviewing some of the fasters, who in turn had colleagues deliver them to the New Haven Green, where a weekly operation to distribute food to needy New Haveners already was underway.
Besides York Side owner George Koutroumanis — who said he did not know he was delivering to a group of hunger strikers — and his pizzas, the fasters were serenaded by a Euphonium-playing Yale faculty member and visited by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who stopped by one day after U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3.
“I admire their courage and tenacity and leadership and I hope that Yale will reach an outcome that respects their rights and important contributions to education,” Blumenthal said later in a statement relayed through a staff member.
In February, graduate student teachers voted to unionize, but since that time Yale officials have refused to sit down with them to negotiate a contract. In a statement released Thursday, the university charged that the vote to unionize was suspect because only 228 of the university’s 2,600 doctoral students participated.
Yale spokesman Thomas Conroy said via e-mail Sunday that the university had nothing new to add.
Local 33 Co-Chairman Aaron Greenberg, D-8, a graduate student teacher and Ph.D. candidate in political science who also is a member of the city’s Board of Alders, said the fasters are resolved to stay — and to keep fasting — indefinitely; until Yale officials agree to negotiate.
“Should any of us, for any reason, not be able to continue the fast, a colleague will take their place,” Greenberg said from one of three Ikea couches the protesters trucked in, along with two easy chairs, several orange folding chairs, some bookshelves, some nice plants, a 20-foot-by-20-foot patch of synthetic turf and a couple of nicely stained wood picnic tables.
The fasters, who Greenberg said do not spend all night on Beinecke Plaza, have been taking care to stay hydrated and have been visited daily by a nurse — who also was on the scene Sunday afternoon, taking temperatures and blood pressure readings — to help prevent serious health problems, he said.
“None of us have eaten since Tuesday evening,” Greenberg said.
Local 33 Co-Chairwoman Robin Canavan, a PhD candidate in Geology and Paleoclimatology, said the fast “is going OK” so far. “I’m a little tired. I miss food. But it’s gone well. We’ve had a lot of support from friends and colleagues.
“I think Yale will ultimately come around and negotiate,” she said.
“The Yale administration has made if very clear that they don’t want us here. They’d like to evict us,” Greenberg said. “They don’t want this structure at ‘33 Wall Street,’” as the students have named it. “But we’re committed to remaining here indefinitely.”
Greenberg also repeated his assertion that Yale officials “are personally deciding to side with Donald Trump over members of the Yale community” until Trump fills open seats on the National Labor Relations Board with members that might be more sympathetic to Yale’s position.
With regard to Yale’s contention that the election was not representative, “that issue was litigated in front of the NLRB for months,” Greenberg said, “and the NLRB ultimately ordered us to have the election.”
The NLRB conducted elections in February in nine departments of the Graduate School for which Local 33 filed petitions.
“Although there are 2,600 doctoral students in the Graduate School, only 228 students cast eligible votes in the nine academic departments in which elections were held,” Yale’s statement reads. “The low vote count — under 9 percent — was due to Local 33’s ‘micro-unit strategy’ of holding nine separate union elections, and preventing students in the rest of the school’s departments from having a say on the question of unionization.”
The Graduate Student Assembly had previously passed a resolution opposing both Local 33 and its “micro-unit” approach, according to the statement. “Unions that have organized at other private universities, including Columbia, Harvard, Duke and Cornell, have all sought school-wide bargaining units — not the separate departmental units advocated by Local 33 at Yale,” the statement says.
The university has requested that the NLRB review the vote, according to the statement, and won’t negotiate with the students until the review is complete.
They told us to wait ... and this is our response,” Greenberg said. “We’re going to wait without eating.”
In the statement, which calls the fast “unwarranted by the circumstances,” Salovey says, “My primary concern is for the health and safety of our students. While I deeply respect their right to freedom of speech and expression, I urge our graduate students to reconsider this decision and to avoid actions that could be harmful to their well-being.”
But Greenberg said that if Salovey, “who hasn’t visited us,” is so concerned about the students’ health, “we’re happy to share a meal with him over a negotiating table.”
Yale’s statement says the university “continues to provide unsurpassed support to its doctoral students. They receive annual stipends of $30,000 or more, and a tuition fellowship or other grants fully cover the annual tuition of $39,800.
“Yale pays for the health insurance of all the doctoral students” and “if a student has a spouse, but no dependent children, Yale pays half the cost of the spouse’s health insurance,” it reads.
“If a student has a spouse and children, the university covers the full cost of their health insurance,” the statement says. “Over six years, the total cost of support equals nearly $375,000 for a single Ph.D. student. For a student with a family, the support totals more than $445,000.”
Faculty members and Local 33 supporter Jim Berger was sitting near the fasters Sunday (with his twin daughters Annah and Teya, both 9, nearby) playing Bach cello suites on his euphonium — a fancy name for a baritone.
“I’m supporting the guys who are fasting. I’m supporting the union,” said Berger, who teaches American studies and English. “I’m supporting the call to negotiate.
“This in an important thing for where Yale has to go,” Berger said.