Despite talk of improving Yale’s historically troubled relationship with its unions, University officials have started to develop contingency plans for maintaining essential services during any labor unrest.
Yale’s contracts with locals 34 and 35, which include dining hall, maintenance, clerical and technical workers expire Jan. 20, 2002, and administrators said they view contingency planning as a routine procedure before any labor negotiation.
“Yale has core operations both to service students and faculty that need to be maintained every day. If there’s any kind of crisis, administrators have to make sure those services keep going,” said Executive Director of Administration Janet Lindner, who is in charge of contingency planning. “It’s a rain plan for a large event.”
The University has developed committees to address main areas of concern, including how labor strife would impact Information Technology Services and general student life.
A student life committee is exploring how to maintain both academic and non-academic obligations to students.
“It’s pretty much pick an area of the University that involves students, [and] we’re trying to anticipate how to prepare for that in the case of some kind of job action,” Deputy Provost Lloyd Suttle said.
In 1996, residential college dining halls closed during a strike, and the University had to refund students’ dining hall payments. In the event dining hall employees went on strike this year, Yale would likely handle the situation in a similar fashion.
“There were rebate checks for people on the dining plans, and the cash could be used at local New Haven restaurants,” Lindner said. “In fact, there are many more restaurants in walking distance [now].”
Associate Vice President for Administration Peter Vallone said the University would prepare for any possible sympathy action teaching assistants might take in support of the unions, such as a grade strike.
Yale’s recognized unions have formed an alliance with the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, which is seeking to become an official union. In December of 1995, GESO members voted to withhold fall term grades until Yale agreed to negotiate with the group, but eventually called off the strike.
With Information Technology Services now one of the fastest growing departments in the University, Lindner said contingency planning to keep computer systems running during a strike is essential.
“We have so many different systems running [that] you want to be sure if someone had full responsibility for an operating unit,” Lindner said. “We have many financial and operative systems run through desktop computers.”
Another goal is to inform students about the progress of labor negotiations. Lindner said the University is considering maintaining a Web site that would update students on the current status of the negotiations.
For the contingency planning, the committees will seek input from faculty and students through their residential colleges. The committee is also relying on input from people who experienced past strikes.
“What kind of services did we provide [and] were students and faculty happy?” Lindner said are among the issues the committee is examining. “We’re relying on people who lived through strikes.”
In the event of a strike, Yale officials also are concerned about the possibility that contracted workers would refuse to cross picket lines.
Facilities Project Director Arch Currie said the University sometimes promises to use an all-union work force on a project in exchange for a no-strike agreement. While he said the University does not foresee workers on the Timothy Dwight College renovations striking, he said that Yale is unsure about how other contracted workers around campus might respond to union unrest.
“We don’t know for sure,” Currie said. “We use a large unionized work force. There is no way to know what understanding they have [about crossing picket lines]. It remains to be seen.”