Town-gown key to negotiations

Beginning late last year, an organization with strong ties to Yale’s labor unions began releasing a series of reports criticizing Yale’s role in New Haven.

In the first report, published last fall, the Connecticut Center for a New Economy concluded that New Haven residents would not benefit from Yale’s enormous investment in biotechnology research.

That report, “Yale Prospers, New Haven Waits,” was the opening salvo in a quiet public relations war that is endemic to Yale’s negotiations with its unions. The latest report from CCNE, “Schools, Taxes and Jobs,” suggested that Yale is responsible for the poor quality of New Haven’s school system. It was released Feb. 7, a week before the start of negotiations between Yale and its two largest recognized unions.

Then, while CCNE was drafting its reports, W. David Lee DIV ’93, a local minister, announced he would run for a spot on the Yale Corporation. Later, local clergy with close ties to CCNE and the unions said they recruited Lee to run for the Corporation seat.

While unique in form, these events were not unusual: Each new round of labor negotiations means Yale and its labor unions wage two new campaigns of words and ideas.

Yale President Richard Levin said this traditional public relations exchange had been undertaken to threaten the University’s relationship with the city, though he is hopeful the tone will change.

“I think it’s an unfortunate side effect that’s consistent with the historic pattern,” Levin said. “There are efforts to be made in the community that in my view aren’t the most constructive.”

In some observers’ eyes, Yale and its unions have created these small side shows to further their positions in the main act at the bargaining table.

Each side — Yale through its Office of New Haven and State Affairs and the unions through organizations like CCNE — may be looking to build support within New Haven’s neighborhoods, many of them home to University workers.

Both sides are operating under the same guiding principle: The future of Yale’s relationship with the city largely depends on how these overtures are received by city residents.

But Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who mediated a negotiation standoff in 1996, said he disagreed with the idea of a war between surrogates.

“I don’t see this as an ONHSA–34/35 [Yale’s two largest unions] proxy fight between their respective agents,” he said.

Often, as DeStefano maintained, these public relations efforts disappear from memory as the smoke clears with the signing of new contracts.

“Generally speaking, it seems to me at some level we’ve got the bargaining process over there, CCNE over there, the Rev. Lee candidacy over there and the Maya Lin [’81 ARC ’86] candidacy over there,” he said. “But they’re not sustainable issues because there’s no place for resolution.”

But like negotiations of years past, this year’s round of talks will still likely force a referendum on town-gown relations. When Yale and its unions eventually step away from the bargaining table with new contracts, these reports and Lee’s campaign will likely force a thorough re-examination of the University’s complex relationship with its host city.

The background noise such campaigns produce at the neighborhood level is endemic to union negotiations in New Haven. Equally as endemic in the city’s neighborhoods is a widespread resentment of Yale and its $10.7 billion endowment — something CCNE used to its advantage in the “Schools, Taxes and Jobs” report.

For its part, Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs has countered by advertising its own accomplishments. The University has touted its homebuyer program — which gives money to workers to purchase homes in New Haven — in full-page advertisements in the New Haven Register. Office of New Haven and State Affairs representatives have spoken at community meetings organized by CCNE to publicize its reports.

DeStefano, who has distanced himself from this year’s negotiations after his large role in 1996, has observed the two parties’ work from City Hall.

“It’s sort of like Yale rents the pages once a week, and then [CCNE] go and do their thing once a week,” DeStefano said.

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