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Labor Chief Arrested at Rally for Yale Strike

September 14, 2003|From Associated Press

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — AFL-CIO President John Sweeney was arrested with 151 other demonstrators Saturday for blocking traffic as they marched through city streets in support of two striking Yale University unions.

Sweeney and hundreds of demonstrators had planned to be arrested during the rally and march, which drew a crowd that police estimated at more than 10,000. The march jammed downtown traffic for blocks and drew lengthy honks from supporters and aggravated drivers.

Sweeney's hands were bound with plastic ties as he boarded a police bus and yelled, "Anything for the workers!"

Meg Riccio, a Yale dining hall worker who was among those arrested, said she didn't mind being taken into custody.

"It's worth getting a criminal record because I'm working for a criminal," she said.

The protesters were charged with disorderly conduct and received misdemeanor summonses to appear in court, police said. All were released.

Thousands of members of Northeast unions converged on New Haven for the demonstration in support of two unions representing about 4,000 clerical, technical and maintenance workers. The unions went on strike three weeks ago.

"This is a fight against a very wealthy institution," Sweeney said. "Unions across the country are coming to lend their support. They are coming to bring their attention to the struggle."

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the demonstration was irrelevant to contract negotiations, likening it to a union recruitment drive.

"Yale is just serving as a good backdrop," Conroy said.

Leaders of two union locals have said some progress has been made since the strike began, but they and Yale remain far apart on pension and other issues.

Yale has offered an eight-year contract with pay raises of 3% to 5% annually, pension benefit increases and signing bonuses. The university has repeatedly said that more unionized workers are reporting to work than walking the picket lines.

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