For immediate release
May 4, 2017
NEW HAVEN — Eight graduate teachers at Yale University have gone over a week without eating or drinking anything except water. Fasters and their allies observed the milestone with a vigil at the home of Yale President Peter Salovey.
At the Tuesday evening vigil, the fasters knocked on the door of the president’s mansion while hundreds of onlookers waited. Salovey did not appear.
The eight fasting members of Local 33-UNITE HERE, the union for graduate teachers, have consumed nothing but water since Tuesday, April 25. “Every day, we sit at our encampment in Beinecke Plaza, and we see President Salovey walk by. Although he says he’s concerned for us, he hasn’t said a single word to us. He won’t even look our way,” said faster Robin Canavan. “He’s afraid to face us, but the broader community is watching. So much of Yale and New Haven are standing with us, part of our struggle.”
The fast by Local 33 is in response to Yale’s refusal to negotiate since February, when graduate teachers voted to unionize. Issues such as pay cuts, sexual harassment, and inadequate health benefits have motivated the group to unionize and brought the fasters to this point.
As the fast has progressed, support for the graduate teachers has grown.
Yale Professor Michael Denning, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American Studies and English, spoke at the vigil Tuesday, presenting a statement of support for Local 33 signed by scores of Yale faculty. “We call on President Salovey and his administration to begin collective bargaining negotiations immediately with Local 33,” the statement said.
Earlier on Tuesday, singer-songwriter Melissa Etheridge, in town for a show, visited the site of the fast to express her support. Said the singer, “It’s very disheartening to see Yale choose the low road when they could step up and be an example in these very confusing days.”
“My message is stay strong,” said Etheridge. “They represent an American ideal, an American right. Some of our greatest movements have been represented by hunger strikes. And being in a union these days and speaking out and making a stand like they are is so very patriotic.”
Also on Tuesday, members of UNITE HERE Local 11 in Los Angeles staged a demonstration in solidarity with Local 33 at an event where Former Chanel Global CEO and current Yale Corporation Member Maureen Chiquet was speaking about her new book. Union members attended the event and distributed cards reading “Yale Corporation Member Maureen Chiquet can end the fast.”
On Sunday, the fasters were welcomed into churches across New Haven to speak about their struggle, while on Monday they joined New Haven’s May Day march. One faster, Charles Decker, spoke to the assembled crowd. “By treating so many of us as disposable, they bring us together and give us the chance to share each other’s strength,” said Decker. “I hope you all draw strength from our fast for justice at Yale, as I draw strength from standing together with you.”