Last summer, as Yale officials finalized the contracts for the renovations of Timothy Dwight College, they asked for assurances that construction workers would not walk out should Yale’s unions go on strike.
Officials said they considered the request to be routine. But with historically divisive negotiations between Yale and its two largest unions looming, the request took on extra importance.
Fusco Corporation, which was hired last summer as the head contractor for the renovations, agreed to make a project labor agreement with the Building and Construction Trade Unions, thereby ensuring workers would not go on strike. In exchange, Fusco agreed to hire all union workers for the renovations, Facilities Project Director Arch Currie said.
Though Yale and the unions representing nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers have not begun negotiations, let alone talk of strikes, the agreement that would force construction workers to cross any potential picket lines has generated concern among union leaders.
“It would seem wrong if it was agreed to that,” Local 35 President Bob Proto said. “I think workers have the right to honor picket lines. That [agreement] seems like it would be counter to what a union would be all about.”
Currie said the University requests no strike, no lockout agreements on important renovations regardless of the status of Yale union contracts. He said University officials have asked contractors to make similar arrangements for past renovations including the Law School, Payne Whitney Gymnasium and other residential colleges.
“I have no concern that the work of Timothy Dwight would be disturbed,” said Kemel Dawkins, associate vice president for facilities. “I’m not concerned that the building trade unions would interrupt their work at Timothy Dwight.”
Richard Campanelli, a member of Carpenters Local 24 who works at the TD site, said that ordinarily union workers would consider supporting other strikers, but that the project labor agreement would affect their decisions.
“Our conscience would say, ‘Yeah, we would stand on that side of the street with them,'” Campanelli said. “But with the project agreement, we’d stand there and they’d get somebody else.”
“I can see something maybe one-eighth of our crew would go and stand with them,” Campanelli added. “We wouldn’t stop working, but we’d go to show our solidarity.”
In 1996, when locals 34 and 35 went on strike during the last round of contract negotiations, a dispute occurred when eight subcontracted workers who refused to cross the Local 34 picket line claimed to have been fired. They later were offered other jobs.
Proto said he recalled the dispute, but not the specifics. He added that while he disagreed with the agreement between the Building and Construction Trade Unions and Fusco, he did not expect it to adversely affect what he called a close relationship with the building unions.
“We have a very good relationship with the building trades,” Proto said. “We stand firm on the fact that Yale should be utilizing them on all their projects, and that they should have an agreement with the building trades to perform all their capital work.”