In New Haven, Wyclef and District 1199 try to turn out the masses. They do OK.
Wyclef Jean’s English, French and Creole wails wafted off the sound stage, across the dusty Route 34 Connector in New Haven Saturday afternoon. District 1199 SEIU imported the international hip-hop star to focus attention on their attempt to organize a union at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and though the folks who did show up had plenty of dance energy, some organizers said privately they were far from ecstatic with the turnout.Event staff had strung a yellow tape extending out from the stage with the intent of forming a large crowd pocket, but at its height the assembled people fell a good 25 feet of the outer boundary. Organizers also cancelled a planned march due to possible thunderstorms, though at 3:30 p.m. the skies were still clear for the concert. Still, one attendee thought the crowd was much bigger than an ordinary political rally would have been. The union has been waging a long organizing campaign at the hospital. Several booths along the side of the stage contained literature, including information about hospital debt. Research carried out by District 1199 staff on the hospital’s aggressive debt collecting tactics caused widespread outrage in New Haven. The Wyclef concert was meant to draw attention to the hosptal’s plans to build a new cancer center. District 1199 has tried to use the cancer center to leverage card check organizing at the hospital, which could result in a potential gain of over 1,000 workers for the union.Good living wage jobs is their ultimate goal, the union contends. To that end Wyclef was in good form, his voice booming and energizing the crowd with George W. Bush put downs. In the lead up to “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” Wyclef sang:“I dedicate this song to all the immigrants that paved the way so we could be here today in America, and we ain’t gonna let nobody play us out…Whatever they’re supposed to pay you, make sure them MF’s pay you.“Wyclef even took the crowd back to his Fugees days, rhyming to “Ready or Not” “Fu-Gee-La” while the D.J. supplied Lauryn Hill on the backup tracks. Those tunes alone put the crowd in a frenzy. In one muse on slain hip-hop stars and performance collaboratives that could have been, Wyclef announced he was sad the Fugees broke up. Sometimes.