Unions vote to clear way for potential strikes

Members of Yale’s two largest unions voted Wednesday night to allow union leaders to call job actions, including strikes.

Members of Local 34, which represents clerical and technical workers, voted 996-198, with four voided ballots, to authorize job actions. Later in the evening, dining hall, service and maintenance workers in Local 35 also approved the authorization, 411-50.

About half the members of each union voted.

The votes allow union leaders to call for job actions as they continue to negotiate new contracts with Yale. Despite a positive start, negotiations have slowed in recent months, and union leaders have indicated that they are considering a strike in the coming months. Leaders have planned a demonstration for Sept. 27, and in the past have notified members about the possibility of a three-day strike in October.

Union leaders said they will continue to negotiate, and likened the votes to the contingency plans University leaders made last winter to be prepared in case of a strike.

University leaders have said they are frustrated with the pace of negotiations and hope to settle contracts without conflict.

“We’re disappointed that the unions have chosen this course of action and we’re not surprised given their previous statements,” Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said.

In a letter to faculty, staff and students last week, Yale President Richard Levin blamed union leaders for the lack of progress and said he thought settling contracts without conflict was not the union leaders’ top priority.

The contracts for locals 34 and 35 expired in January. Leaders have renewed the old contracts on a month-to-month basis, but workers have not received annual pay raises because new contracts have not been settled.

The current contracts, which include a no-strike, no-lockout clause, are effective through Oct. 1. If leaders on either side wish to discontinue the contracts, they must notify the other side at least 15 days before the start of the next month.

At the membership meetings, John Wilhelm ’67, the president of the parent group of Yale’s unions, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, addressed members before they cast ballots. Wilhelm spoke first at the Local 34 meeting in a packed Woolsey Hall. Later in the evening he spoke to Local 35 members in Battell Chapel, where workers filled the pews and aisles.

Many workers said they did not want to strike, but were willing to do so.

“I don’t want to go on strike, but if we have to I’m behind it 100 percent,” said Connie Ellison, a Local 35 member who works in the Jonathan Edwards College dining hall. “We do good work for the dining halls and custodial services. Why can’t President Levin do good by us?”

Other union members said they were disappointed that negotiations, which began in February, had still not produced contracts.

“It sounds like it may go into January 2003,” said Local 34 member April Bowe, who works in Treasury Services. “It’s sad because of the Christmas holidays. Our children will miss out.”

Some union members wore buttons that read, “I don’t want to strike but I will,” which were distributed in 1996, the last time the unions went on strike.

Leaders from both sides began negotiations hoping to improve the relationship and avoid the conflicts of past contract renewals. Negotiators reached several tentative settlements on major issues during the spring, but have not reached any agreements on wages or benefits. Over the summer, negotiations floundered, with only 10 full-committee bargaining sessions.

A major source of conflict between the two sides is the alliance locals 34 and 35 have formed with two groups trying to form unions. Union leaders have said they want Yale to address the organizing efforts of graduate students and workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital as part of the current contract talks. Yale leaders have said repeatedly that they will not negotiate over either group.

Unionized dietary workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital also began a strike authorization vote Wednesday night, but have extended the vote to allow night shift workers to cast ballots today. The union includes 150 workers, and is negotiating contracts to replace the old ones, which expired Jan. 1, 2001. The dietary workers have formed an alliance with Yale’s unions and have been working to unionize about 1,800 other workers at the hospital.

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