Once again, labor activists are hitting the Elm City’s streets to demand more from Yale — this time, leaving behind a permanent, painted mark on the University’s doorstep.
The new mural sits in front of Sheffield-Sterling-Strathcona Hall on Prospect Street, part of which was closed on Saturday with the approval of the Board of Alders. Activists painted “YALE: RESPECT NEW HAVEN” in blue-green and white lettering, mirroring the campaign yard signs of New Haven Rising — an organization that partners with labor unions to secure jobs and social services for local residents. The mural, which comes after multiple labor protests with similar messaging last year, will be part of UNITE HERE and New Haven Rising’s Car Caravan and Rally for Respect this Wednesday. As community members painted, activists and others spoke to the crowd, calling on Yale to invest more in New Haven.
A drone shot of the painting on Prospect St.
Starting at 7 a.m. on Saturday, painters also added two stripes to Prospect Street’s bike lane. One is a 670-foot blue line reaching from Grove Street to Trumbull Street, representing Yale’s more than $30 billion endowment. Meanwhile, Yale’s $13 million in annual voluntary contributions — an amount labor organizers call a “drop in the bucket” — is represented by a red stripe just a few inches wide.
“In these times when people are struggling, and people are worrying about their tomorrow, Yale is making the decision not to pay its fair share,” New Haven Rising organizer the Rev. Scott Marks said in a speech to the roughly 150 people who gathered at the intersection.
Reverend Scott Marks speaking
In an interview with the News, Marks said that he wants Salovey to look at the blue line and feel ashamed. He added that as part of the New Haven community, Yale should step up to the plate. Pointing down the road toward Science Hill, Marks questioned how the University could loom so close to Newhallville, a New Haven neighborhood with a high poverty rate, and still choose to do nothing.
In an email statement to the News in November, University spokesperson Karen Peart said that if the University contributed more to New Haven, it would not be maintaining a “prudent level of spending” from its endowment based on “sound economic theory and analysis.” She added that Yale’s $12 million voluntary payment to New Haven in fiscal year 2019-20 was “the highest from a university to a host city anywhere in the United States.”
“This is as much as we can responsibly spend without unfairly taking from those who will come after us,” Peart wrote in the statement. “The strength we are experiencing derives from the generosity and care of those who came before us, and we have similar obligations to the future students, faculty, and staff of this university.”
Petition to Salovey and O’Connor
Organizers delivered a petition to University leaders that was signed by more than 40 local groups, pointing to a deep-rooted history of redlining and inequity in the city to which Yale’s tax exemptions have contributed. Chief among their demands is a higher contribution from Yale to the city in order to fund schools, libraries, affordable housing and other initiatives.
“[Yale] must commit to making up the revenue that is lost from their tax-exempt property,” said Ice The Beef Latino Caucus President Manuel Camacho, reading the petition aloud outside 1 Prospect St. “Last year this would have transformed our city by providing an additional $146 million to support city services.”
Camacho, who is 16, brought along his entire family for support, including the family chihuahua.
In addition to increased funding, organizers are asking the University to add more high-paying jobs for local residents and to establish better contract terms with Yale’s labor unions, Local 34 and Local 35. These unions represent around 5,000 of the University’s technical, clerical, service and mechanical employees.
Ward 8 Alder Ellen Cupo, who works as a senior administrative assistant at Yale’s Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, attended with her son Hunter on Saturday. An organizer with Local 34’s local jobs campaign, Cupo said she wants to see Yale negotiate a fair contract as soon as possible.
“Today is not just about union workers — it’s about every citizen of New Haven,” Cupo said. “It’s about Yale respecting the people who live here and reinvesting into the city in a real way, in a monetary way.”
In a statement to the New Haven Independent on May 1, Peart said that Yale has taken measures to protect its staff from the economic impacts of the pandemic by providing them with full pay and benefits even if they could not report to work. She said no staff were laid off as a direct response to COVID-19.
On Saturday, Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker-Myers also went to the event to support organizers and told the News that residents should not have to beg Yale to support the community that the University itself is a part of.
“Yale might have money, but we have people,” said Walker-Myers. “It’s important for people from all walks of life to come together to show Yale that this is how you get it done.”
A family applauds next to the blue line on Prospect St.
Ward 3 Alder Ron C. Hurt arrived on Prospect Street at 7:30 a.m. to set up tables and equipment. In addition to representing the Hill neighborhood on the Board of Alders, Hurt is an organizer with New Haven Rising.
“The wind is still blowing so it’s cold, yet it’s warm because there’s a lot of cohesiveness, a lot of togetherness, right here,” said Hurt. “The love that we’re expressing right now between all walks of life has been a great experience so far.”
Those who helped paint did indeed represent all walks of life. Local 34 member Tony Ann Simiola brought her daughter and her granddaughter to the event, while Yale postdoctoral associate Leslie Gross-Wyrtzen brought her husband and two daughters.
Resident Nicole Morley, who helped paint the blue line, said she wants people to see the painting and recognize the importance of Yale balancing respect for education with doing its part for the community. Students were also in attendance Saturday, including members of Yale Dems and Yale’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America.
“I think it’s really important that we as students show up in solidarity with New Haven, where we’re living now, and with the campus workers who do so much for the uni and get so little from them,” said Oren Schweitzer ’23, a member of the Yale YDSA organizing committee. “It’s important that we not only show solidarity but engage in those struggles to help them fight for what they deserve.”
Trinity College professor Davarian Baldwin, author of “In the Shadow of the Ivory Tower: How Universities are Plundering our Cities,” made a speech to the crowd on Saturday. Baldwin lamented that the University’s educational role has become the smallest feature of its mission.
Baldwin addresses the crowd.
“Right before our eyes, colleges and universities have become the real estate barons, the biotech moguls, the health care hustlers,” said Baldwin. “The military security force that they employ creates and determines and executes the management of bodies, goods and services so that they can extract more wealth from your communities.”
New Haven Rising and UNITE HERE will host a Caravan Rally at 5 p.m. on May 5. It will begin on the corner of Prospect and Grove.