Yale, unions call in consultants

With union contracts expiring in less than three months, University and labor leaders plan to put off formal negotiations until at least December. Instead they will begin meeting with consultants this week in the hope of finding a more amicable approach to what traditionally has been a divisive negotiation process.

Consultants John Stepp and Anne Comfort of Restructuring Associates, Inc., a Washington, D.C., firm, will work with representatives of Yale and locals 34 and 35, the University’s two recognized unions. Stepp said he hopes to suggest ways the two sides can structure negotiations to avoid tensions that traditionally have prolonged the process.

The contracts for locals 34 and 35, which represent Yale’s clerical, technical, dining hall and maintenance workers, expire Jan. 20. In the past, negotiations have started in early November.

Union and University leaders hope the mediated approach can help reverse decades of what has been considered one of the worst labor relations records in the country. Since 1968, seven negotiations have led to strikes, including the last set in 1996, when the two locals staged successive 10-week strikes before the contracts were settled 13 months after negotiations began.

Leaders on both sides said memories of previous negotiations made looking for alternatives appealing.

“We’ve all acknowledged at this point on both the administrative and union side that there are some very serious problems with labor relations on this campus,” Local 34 President Laura Smith said. “I think this provides us with an opportunity to possibly change all that.”

Local 35 President Bob Proto said he hopes meetings with Stepp and Comfort will allow both sides to continue to work together.

“This provides a lot of hope for the Yale community in taking the right step to hopefully fulfill what [Yale President] Rick Levin has been saying all along — that we’re looking for a more improved model for labor relations in the future,” Proto said.

University leaders said they were equally hopeful about the possibility of finding a less acrimonious process.

“We are embarking on what is a serious attempt to improve the labor relationship with locals 34 and 35, and doing it together with the leadership of 34 and 35,” Director of Labor Relations Brian Tunney said.

Stepp said the initial list of representatives he was given consisted mostly of leaders of both sides, but added that he urged both sides to include a broader group of people.

“I have encouraged both sides to include a vertical cross section that would provide multiple views,” Stepp said. “Leadership can have one view, but as you move down you find people at mid- and lower-levels see differently and bring a point of view, a line of sight, that is particularly beneficial.”

Locals 34 and 35 have been working in alliance with the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, which is attempting to unionize teaching assistants, and Service Employees International Union District 1199, which is trying to organize service and maintenance workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital. But Stepp and Comfort will not meet with representatives from either of the two groups.

The alliance between the four labor groups is expected to play a role in the upcoming negotiations, but since only locals 34 and 35 have official recognition and contracts, they are the only ones who Stepp and Comfort will meet with.

Stepp added that he had only been told briefly about a labor situation with TAs and was not aware of the specific issues surrounding GESO.

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