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The Jobs Yale Promised

Design by Sam Oldshue.

The aldermanic chambers were so packed that people had to sit on the floor, stand in the aisles, or even crane their necks from the hallway outside, where the crowd had overflowed. It was loud. It was hot. And the people inside the chambers were angry. Activists from New Haven Rising – an organization that campaigns alongside unions for solutions to the jobs crisis – waved signs reading “HIRE US” and “Yale: Take the Lead!” Yalies fanned themselves with fliers. Concerned New Haven residents read the sheets Yale representatives had handed out, cataloguing the university’s record of local hiring in the past three years. Other New Haveners, who had tried and failed to find work at Yale, prepared to give short testimonials. It was February 21st, 2019. Yale was making a public report on its progress toward a 2015 pledge to increase the number of workers it hires from New Haven.

In that pledge — which Yale officials publicly signed in December 2015 — the University promised to hire one thousand New Haven residents into permanent full-time jobs. At least five hundred of these residents had to come from “neighborhoods of need,” a term used in the pledge to refer to communities in New Haven where the jobs crisis is particularly severe, including Dixwell, Dwight, Fair Haven, The Hill, Newhallville, West River, and West Rock. At the February hearing, Janet Lindner, Yale’s Vice President for Human Resources and Administration, initially claimed that Yale had far surpassed these figures, hiring 2,591 New Haven residents, including 627 from neighborhoods of need. But both city alders and representatives from Yale’s Local 34 and Local 35 unions immediately questioned those numbers. Lindner had counted 1,431 post-doctoral associates – temporary graduate researchers, not permanent hires, as stipulated by the original contract. Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker-Myers also questioned whether journeymen construction workers should be counted, since they were being hired for short-term contracts and already had credentials. Discounting the journeymen, Yale had hired only 876 of the promised one thousand New Haven residents. Only 273 of the promised five hundred came from neighborhoods of need.

Over the course of the four and a half hour hearing, forty-five speakers gave three-minute speeches, several of which were recounted by the New Haven Independent. Since graduating from Wilbur Cross High School three years ago, Carlos Hernandez said he had applied multiple times for a service job at Yale. Despite his experience in kitchens and hospitals, Yale rejected all his applications. Jamie Schmidt tried for eight years to get a full-time job at Yale. Although she held a business degree, she was told that she wasn’t qualified. And Karen Harrison, a grandmother living in West Rock, said she had been trying for six months to get a full-time job at the dining hall she works in, ever since her hours there were cut.

“Today I am one of those that’s struggling,” Harrison said at the hearing, as the Independent reported. “I’m one of the ones that’s going to have my lights turned out. I’m one of the ones that isn’t going to have food. I’m one of the ones that might not hawve heat or a roof over my head. I just wanted to be one of those who get good-paying jobs that they promised us.”

Some of the youth activists present discussed the connection between violent crime and unemployment. They argued that more local jobs would save the lives of youths killed on the streets. (While violent crime in New Haven has been steadily decreasing over the past decade, there were still ten homicides in 2018.) Others noted that many of the neighborhoods of need have high Black and Hispanic populations; Yale’s failure to hire from these communities, they claimed, made it complicit in racial injustice. And Rev. Scott Marks – Director of New Haven Rising – said that “this failure has revealed that the University’s hiring process is deeply flawed, and New Haven residents are not being treated fairly. Our residents can succeed in Yale jobs, but the current hiring process erects walls that prevent them from having a fair shot.”

Since the 1970s, when factories began to close en masse, New Haven has experienced economic decline and high unemployment levels. If all New Haven jobs went to New Haven residents, then the jobs crisis might be over. According to Free Speech Radio News (FSRN), in 2015 there were eighty-three thousand jobs in New Haven, more than half of which paid a living wage of at least twenty dollars an hour. “But only nine thousand of those living wage jobs are held by New Haven residents,” FSRN reported, “and only two thousand of them by residents in the city’s low-income neighborhoods.” Though Yale is the city’s largest employer by a significant margin, FSRN reported that in 2015, less than a third of its employees lived in New Haven.

Throughout the February hearing, several questions were reiterated, again and again. Is Yale genuinely committed to local hiring? Is it committed to hiring workers from low- income neighborhoods – to ending the jobs crisis that has existed in these communities since the 1970s?


When Joelle Fishman moved to New Haven in 1968, the Elm City was a factory town with Yale at the center. She remembers that New Haven was seething with activity back then — an activist’s city, filled with Vietnam War protesters, soon to be caught up in the trials of several prominent Black Panthers, but also a worker’s city, filled with industries and good union jobs. Over the coming years, the industries left, the factories closed down, and the newly unemployed workers looked to Yale for work. Fishman’s husband took a job at Yale. She joined the New Haven People’s Center, a local hub for immigrant rights, labor activism, and other social justice causes.

The People’s Center has been in New Haven since 1937. It’s a weather-worn brick townhouse rising three stories over Howe Street; over the years, it’s served as a homeless daycare center, a site on the Connecticut Freedom Trail, and a meeting place for Union 1199, which represents workers in the healthcare industry. The door is usually unlocked. The first floor is filled with relics of activism: pictures of quilts from the Connecticut Freedom Trail, a photograph of some of the youth activists in Elm City

Dream, and a patchwork quilt decorated with scenes and quotes from the civil rights movement. “We are not afraid, we are not afraid / We are not afraid today,” reads one of the quotes, referencing Pete Seeger. “Oh, deep in my heart I do believe / We shall overcome some day.”

Fishman is older now: wrinkled, a little hunched, but just as active in community organizing today as she was in 1968. She’s become the coordinator of the New Haven People’s Center. When she talks about the jobs crisis in New Haven, about the longstanding pattern of discrimination in Yale’s local hiring, it’s with a clear and steady voice. “A lot of work, a lot of commitment, a lot of determination” — that’s what brought Yale to the negotiating table in 2015, Fishman believes, and that’s what will bring it back in the future. “It was basically taking anger and frustration in the community and turning it in a positive direction. Saying, ‘let’s do this together.’”

There are several reasons why Fishman believes that Yale has a duty to hire from neighborhoods of need. One is that the city’s economic decline has disproportionately affected communities with high populations of racial minorities. In 1937, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) created a “residential safety map” of New Haven, indicating which areas in the city were “safe” to invest in and which areas were supposedly too hazardous for investment. HOLC’s map also noted which neighborhoods had been “infiltrated” by racial minorities; none of the safe neighborhoods had any infiltration, while many of the hazardous neighborhoods included descriptions such as “given over largely to Negros employed as domestics.” (Infiltration was used by HOLC as an official term.) This map – a form of redlining – prevented many residents of the hazardous neighborhoods from obtaining home loans or other basic services. It also accentuated racial segregation in the city.

When industries left, the redlined communities (those that HOLC had marked as hazardous) suffered inordinately. In 2011, the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE) published a comprehensive report detailing the history of economic inequality in New Haven over the past few decades. Among other things, this report compared the economic evolution of Newhallville, a redlined community that relied heavily on jobs from the gun company Winchester Repeating Arms, and that of East Rock, one of New Haven’s wealthier neighborhoods. In 2011, fewer than 6 percent of households earned less than $10,000 in East Rock; 20 percent did in Newhallville. 27 percent of households earned more than $100,000 per year in East Rock; 6 percent did in Newhallville. East Rock is over 80 percent white. Newhallville is more than 80 percent African-American.

Yale didn’t help HOLC draw its map of New Haven, and Fishman doesn’t claim that the university is directly responsible for racial segregation in the city. But she does think that the university is complicit in New Haven’s racial inequality, in part because it has historically hired few residents of redlined communities. She thinks that Yale’s commitment to hire from neighborhoods of need is a necessary redress for past discrimination: for past attempts to shut out the “hazardous” portions of New Haven.


When Fishman came to New Haven in 1968, Yale President Kingman Brewster was advocating a plan that would physically separate the University from Dixwell, Newhallville, and other redlined neighborhoods by extending interstates I-91 and I-95 around the campus in a circle. “There was a lot of opposition,” Fishman recalls. “It was called a moat. It was stopped by community organizing.” She remembers a day, not long after this plan was defeated, when her husband brought home a memo from Yale warning new students about “dangerous people” they might encounter on the streets. “It was coded language,” Fishman says. “It was racist.” And she remembers yet another day, years later, when a highly qualified African-American woman was denied a job at Yale in favor of an outside candidate. A local union filed a grievance; the professor in charge of hiring — who also lived outside New Haven, near the outside candidate — explained his rationale with surprising candor during the grievance hearing. “It’s true that the two women are equally qualified,” Fishman remembers him saying. “But because I’m more comfortable with the woman from my area, that makes her more qualified than the other woman.”

Near the end of the CCNE report, the authors claim that what New Haven needs above all is a jobs pipeline: “a large-scale, comprehensive program…to educate, train, and hire local residents.” Shortly after the report was published, rallies and protests began in earnest. In December 2011, one thousand people marched in a rally against income inequality, carrying “Occupy New Haven” posters above them. In April 2012, nearly two thousand people marched from the New Haven Green to Yale Medical School, calling for the jobs pipeline envisioned by CCNE.

In September 2014, organizers from New Haven Rising inaugurated a campaign for more local jobs in New Haven. In June 2015, after many months of protests and community organizing, Yale pledged to hire five hundred New Haven residents over the next two years. This proposal — which made no mention of New Haven’s low-income neighborhoods — was greeted with almost universal condemnation. Only two days later, a crowd of one thousand demonstrators gathered on the New Haven Green. “Hire the five hundred now!” Ward 23 Alder Tyisha Walker-Myer shouted before the crowd. Posters with this slogan were all over the Green. Mayor Toni Harp and Rev. Scott Marks said that Yale had a responsibility to help fix the jobs crisis. Several months later, in December, New Haven Rising planned another demonstration — this time a march on the Broadway shopping district, which could have resulted in mass arrests. Just days before the march was scheduled to take place, Yale conceded to the organizers’ demands. The university made its public pledge to hire one thousand city residents and committed to hiring five hundred from neighborhoods of need.

A month after the report was published, the Board of Alders created a research group charged with finding solutions to the jobs crisis. This group conceived New Haven Works (NHW) – a nonprofit that helps residents apply to jobs at Yale and other local other employers. The job coaches at NHW work in collaboration with staff from Yale’s New Haven Community Hiring Initiative, a program that matches NHW’s clients with available job openings at

Yale. The 2015 pledge stipulated that Yale’s one thousand local hires “would come primarily from New Haven Works.” Yet it would be hard to call NHW a “large-scale” or “comprehensive” solution to the jobs crisis. According to Filip Relic – a recently hired job coach at NHW – the nonprofit has only five job coaches, and in a typical month it has room to take in under half of the hundred or so people who pre-register for job counseling. These forty to fifty applicants are chosen by random lottery. The rest are out of luck.


New Haven Works has its office on the first floor of a tired-looking brick building near the Peabody Museum. Walk inside on a typical day, and you’ll find a row of empty seats and blank computers, a listless room with motivational posters plastered to every available surface. There’s a receptionist, a job coach or two, and a handful of young men and women sitting in front of computers, revising their resumes, sending in application after application. The only sound in the room is the chatter of the receptionist and the soft clicking of the keyboards.

For many of its clients, NHW makes all the difference. Osikhena Awudu can’t remember how many times he applied to positions at Yale before coming to NHW. Back in 2012, he was a paralegal at a Hartford law office; he wanted to work at Yale because the seventy-five-mile round-trip commute from his Newhallville home to Hartford was taking a toll on his family life. He applied to technical positions, to low-level administrative positions, to anything for which he was qualified. All his applications were denied. He never even got an interview.

“New Haven Works broke the cycle, really,” Awudu said. “I had sent many, many applications before, but essentially hadn’t gotten anywhere.” He was an impressive candidate. He had a bachelor’s degree in law from the University of Ibadan, a master’s degree from the University of Buckingham, and a year’s professional experience working as a paralegal. A job coach at NHW helped him strengthen his resume and put him in contact with a human resources generalist at Yale. A few weeks later, the generalist invited Awudu to apply for a position as a senior administrator at the Law School, a job that normally would have been open only to internal applicants. He went through a series of interviews, was hired, and a few years later moved up to his current position as a program manager. He’s been at Yale ever since.

Melissa Mason, the Executive Director of NHW, is proud of the work her staff has done over the past seven years. “Since we’ve opened our doors, we’ve placed over 1,300 people into jobs with area employers, and 75 percent of those jobs have been what we call regular or permanent jobs,” she said. NHW services clients with a wide range of backgrounds: people with high school diplomas, with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and even some, like Awudu, with master’s degrees or PhDs. Mason noted that over 80 percent of NHW’s clients are people of color and that over 50 percent come from low-income neighborhoods.

Relic became a job coach at NHW quite recently, but he’s already been able to help several people find work. One of his clients works in New York City and spends five hours on the train every day, which costs her about $800 per month. She hadn’t had any success applying to jobs in New Haven for the past three years, but after just three meetings with Relic she’s been able to get an interview at a local bank. “She may be selected or not,” Relic said, “but it’s definitely bringing her closer to the goal.”

Relic noted, however, that NHW doesn’t have the staff or the funding to address the full demand of New Haven residents for job counseling. The majority of NHW’s funding comes from the state and the city of New Haven, though Yale also supports the nonprofit. “Considering the size of this nonprofit, I think we are doing a great job,” Relic said. “Considering the size and the budget,” he repeated.


Local hiring isn’t just an economic issue. Though violent crime has decreased markedly in New Haven in recent years, it still disproportionately affects the “neighborhoods of need” of Yale’s promisecommunities with high minority populations, and many believe that better job prospects in the area would help keep the area safer. The authors of the CCNE report include several testimonies from New Haven residents. One of the most striking comes from Shelton Tucker, who in the late 1990s turned to drug dealing because of the lack of economic opportunity in New Haven.

“When I was a kid, drug dealers were looked at as somebody who had made it — had found a way to climb up out of this mess,” Tucker said in his testimony. He also turned to drug dealing; at the age of fifteen, he was making $500 a day. “But within three years I had a list of names in a folder—it had to be thirty names—of my friends who had died,” he wrote. “In 1997, I went to five funerals in two months.”

Tucker argued against policing as a way of combating drug dealing. “We can’t arrest our way out of a drug problem,” he wrote. “If you really want to fix the problem, give those guys some jobs. Prison is not a real deterrent. Depending on the level of poverty or desperation, they’ll weigh the unpleasantness of going to prison against this poverty and desperation, and the risk becomes worth it. But the job — that’s a real incentive, and a real way out.”

For Tucker, a good-paying job provided an alternative to drug dealing. “I got a job in construction through the city’s construction workforce program,” he wrote. “There was an opening and I got in and never looked back.”


Naomi D’Arbell Bobadilla, currently a sophomore at Yale, campaigned door-to-door for New Haven Rising last summer. Bobadilla doesn’t know what the leadership of New Haven Rising —which did not respond to repeated requests for comment — plans to do next. Members of New Haven Rising are currently gathering signatures for a community petition, and Bobadilla suspects that something larger may follow. “Everyone will have the choice to believe a multi-billion dollar corporation or a community that has gathered testimonies and stood together,” she said.

Many activists criticize the university for adopting a reactionary posture. While Yale has created several programs of its own accord dedicated to ending the jobs crisis, such as the New Haven Community Hiring Initiative, it has also failed to emphasize local hiring at moments when activists haven’t pressured it to do so. In 2017, the Yale Daily News reported that on a typical day, just 12 percent of the construction workers building the two new residential colleges were New Haven residents. Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor told the News that on most construction projects, the university tries to get “at least 25 percent New Haven residents,” and that they had merely fallen short on this particular project. A city official interviewed by the News mentioned the specialized skills needed to build certain parts of the colleges – skills that few New Haven residents possessed. Fishman saw things differently. She considered the low figure to be yet more evidence that Yale isn’t invested in hiring from New Haven.

Fishman believes there are systemic issues with Yale’s hiring practices that have historically shut out many New Haven residents. She said that a little more than a year after Yale’s 2015 pledge, members of New Haven’s Black and Hispanic Caucus met with representatives of Yale to review the university’s progress. During the meeting, Fishman said, “they discovered that the majority of applications that came from New Haven Works weren’t even opened. If there was one small error, or if one line wasn’t filled out on the cover, then the whole thing was just put in the file bin.” She also mentioned that for certain jobs at Yale, you have to start out as a casual worker with twenty or fewer hours every week. “It’s really hard for people to do that, because they can’t live on that,” she said. “You have to have another job as well.” Since the hearing this February, Yale has avoided commenting on its 2015 pledge. Lindner, Tom Conroy, the University Spokesman, and Chris Brown, the Director of Yale’s New Haven Community Hiring Initiative, were all unwilling to provide any comment on Yale’s hiring processes. Representatives of Yale’s UNITE HERE unions also did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Alderman Hacibey Catalbasoglu, currently a senior at Yale, remembers the February hearing as if it were yesterday. He had never seen so many people in the aldermanic chambers. Hacibey has lived in New Haven all his life, but he also remembers that, before becoming a Yalie, he never felt comfortable walking onto Cross Campus. For him, the jobs campaign is part of the larger struggle to eliminate the divide between Yale and New Haven. “We shouldn’t be making Yale out as the enemy,” he said. “But, at the same time, we should be asking how it can do more.”

Last year, in a bid to balance New Haven’s budget, the Board of Alders approved an 11 percent increase in the city’s already high property tax. Yale owns a large proportion of the land in New Haven, but much of its property is tax-exempt. Catalbasoglu thinks that the residential colleges, at the very least, should not be tax-exempt. He thinks that Yale should try to get an affordable diner to open on Broadway in order to turn the Broadway triangle into a place where Yalies mingle with New Haven residents rather than a gentrified extension of Yale, “a place where New Haven residents don’t go.” And even if Yale had fulfilled its 2015 pledge, he doesn’t think that five hundred hires from neighborhoods of need would be enough. “No number is enough,” he said.

In 2011, thirty-four people were killed on the streets of New Haven. When Fishman thinks back to that violent year, she wonders whether those people would have died if the jobs crisis had been less severe. She wonders if Yale could have done more for New Haven in 2011, if it will do more in the future. “There’s a lot of anger. There’s a lot of frustration,” she said. “Yale is the company in a company town right now.”

—Henry Reichard is a senior in Davenport College.

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