Day in court for arrested Yale protesters

(WTNH/ Kent Pierce)

NEW HAVEN, Conn (WTNH) – Dozens of protesters took to the steps of the New Haven courthouse Friday morning. The Yale graduate student teachers who sat down in three downtown intersections last week, blocking traffic, had their day in court, and they brought their fellow protesters along with them.

“I sat down at the intersection of College and Chapel,” said arrested grad student Julia Powers, through a bullhorn on the courthouse steps.

Power was there to answer charges of disorderly conduct and interfering with police. She was one of several Yale grad students arrested by police for blocking traffic Thursday of last week.

Related: 23 Yale protesters arrested after blocking traffic in New Haven Thursday morning

“We were dragged away, I was frisked, put in the paddy wagon and taken to jail,” Powers explained.

Friday, there was more protesting. Not in the streets, but they formed a big circle on the courthouse steps. It is all part of weeks of protest by grad students who also teach classes. Members of some graduate programs voted to join the labor union Unite Here Local 33.

“I took an arrest to demand that Yale begin negotiations with our union,” said arrested student Nica Siegel during her time with the bullhorn.

Yale disputes the legitimacy of February’s vote to unionize, because it only involved a few graduate departments. The latest statement released by university spokesman Tom Conroy reads, in part: “UNITE HERE is the only union to attempt a controversial strategy of micro-unit organizing in a handful of academic departments. This tactic has denied over 90% of Yale doctoral students the right to vote in union elections. Yale has asked the NLRB to review this novel strategy.”

Related: Yale teachers, community members join together in front of university president’s house 

The top reason grad students say they need to unionize is because they say 54% of women in graduate and professional schools report being sexually harassed.

“That’s why we need a union contract and we need a union grievance procedure that we hope to include in that contract once Yale begins negotiations, where we can actually control the conditions under which those kinds of cases can be resolved,” said Siegel.

Last week’s protest blocked traffic at three downtown intersections for more than an hour on the busy moving out day for Yale. This Monday is the even-busier Yale graduation day, and the question is, will there be more protests, disrupting the ceremony, or traffic?

“We plan to be out on Monday,” Powers said, not divulging any details. “We plan to continue talking about this issue and we will be doing the same on Monday as well.”

Related: Yale protesters plan big crowds during commencement ceremonies

The students were represented in court by well-know defense attorney Hugh Keefe. He said their cases have all been continued for a few weeks. If they do certain hours of community service by then, the charges will all be dropped.

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