Union faces national membership crunch

The parent union of Yale’s two recognized labor groups has faced financial cutbacks and layoffs of more than a third of its membership because of a decline in tourism since Sept. 11.

But leaders of locals 34 and 35, which represent University clerical, technical, dining hall and maintenance employees, said they would not be affected financially, and the president of the parent group said the Yale unions will still receive strike funds if upcoming contract negotiations lead to a walkout.

Officials from the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union estimated that more than a third of its 265,000 members have been laid off in the last seven weeks. The union has cut its national staff by 20 percent, and HERE’s national leaders have taken 20 percent paycuts.

“Without a doubt, the massive layoffs in our industry will crimp our budget,” said Tom Snyder, assistant to the president of HERE. “It affects both local unions and the international union. We’ll survive, but it definitely affects our finance.”

But even with worries in its parent union, leaders of locals 34 and 35 said their unions have not been affected.

Bob Proto, president of Local 35, said the two unions support themselves fully with membership dues and do not depend on the international union for their funding.

“We’ve given support to our sister local in New York, but it hasn’t impacted any of the jobs at Yale,” Proto said. “There’s been no major change in any of our financial situations.”

But Yale’s unions have received significant assistance from HERE in the form of strike funds during each of the six strikes since 1971, HERE President John Wilhelm ’67 said.

With negotiations looming as contracts expire in January, union and University officials say a strike is not inevitable, although Yale has had tumultuous labor relations, and the majority of the labor negotiations in the last 30 years have led to strikes.

Even with severe financial stain on the international union, Wilhelm said Yale’s unions will receive adequate support should they go on strike.

“There will be whatever support is needed from our union and from the broader labor union,” Wilhelm said. “Our basic industry has been hit harder than any other industry in the wake of Sept. 11, and the rest of the American labor movement knows that. God forbid there is another strike at Yale, but if there is, there will be the support that is necessary.”

While Yale’s unions have not been hit hard by the decline in tourism, representatives from HERE Local 217, which represents workers at the Omni New Haven Hotel, said they are concerned for their workers.

David Jurcak, general manager for the Omni, said the hotel has faced a significant decline in its business, particularly from the recent drop in business travel, which he said accounts for 88 percent of the hotel’s business. Jurcak said the hotel has laid off 10 workers, none of whom were part of the union, and expects to cut the hours of up to 85 of the 210 employees.

Steve Mathews, president of Local 217, said the job and hour cuts could have even broader effects if workers lose wages and need to go on welfare. Mathews and Jurcak have been meeting with a task force set up by the mayor’s office to make recommendations to Gov. John G. Rowland on how to encourage tourism in Connecticut.

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