Unions vote to support GESO, hospital workers

In their first joint meeting since 1996, members of Yale’s two recognized unions, Locals 34 and 35, voted overwhelmingly last night to support the Graduate Employees and Students Organization and Yale-New Haven Hospital workers in their organization efforts.

Local 34 and 35 members showed their support through a voice vote, marking the first time Yale unions have collectively endorsed GESO or the 1,800 hospital employees who are attempting to organize. About 1,200 people, including GESO and hospital representatives, assembled in Woolsey Hall for the meeting, which was not open to the public.

Local 34 represents University clerical and technical workers, and Local 35 is Yale’s service and maintenance workers union. Both of their contracts with Yale expire Jan. 20, 2002. The last joint Local 34 and 35 meeting in 1996 was held to approve contracts with the University after the two unions went on several strikes that crippled the University and received national attention.

With contract negotiations looming and the status of GESO unresolved, union leaders have repeatedly linked the well-being of recognized Yale unions with that of GESO and the hospital workers, both groups that are attempting to unionize.

Union officials have said GESO’s fate would be a key factor in the progress of Local 34 and 35′s upcoming negotiations with Yale, but the extent to which GESO and the Yale-New Haven Hospital situation will affect the contract negotiation process for Locals 34 and 35 remains to be seen.

The two recognized Yale unions and GESO have had financial ties since 1991. The three labor groups and prospective hospital union members associated with Service Employees International Union District 1199 have since formed the Federation of Hospital and University employees.

“We are one federation, and we are sending Yale a very clear message,” Local 34 President Laura Smith said.

Leaders of all four groups continue to impress the importance of the federation to both its members and public.

“Knowing that Yale will try to separate us, we’re here to tell Yale that all four unions are in this together,” Local 35 President Bob Proto said in a press release. “Yale needs to deal with us as one federation.”

When the vote was taken nearly two hours after the joint meeting began, approximately half of the original crowd of union members was still in Woolsey Hall. While some members seemingly lost interest and left, the several hundred who stayed until the end displayed their enthusiasm. When the vote was taken, a loud roar in support of the federation could be heard from the Rotunda outside.

Yale President Richard Levin and Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer, had no comment on the vote.

“We were energized by the meeting,” said Shirley Lawrence, a dining hall employee and Local 35 member. “It will definitely help us.”

GESO leaders were heartened by the show of support.

“Every member and potential member of GESO knows that [the federation] is at the heart of what our union is trying to do,” GESO Chair J.T. Way GRD ’05 said.

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