Future of negotiations uncertain

When union leaders passed up the opportunity this week to cancel contracts for next month, many University officials, workers and other observers said they were surprised.

With frequent talk of an October strike, many University officials and workers expected union leaders to cancel the contracts, which prohibit job actions.

Union leaders said they did not cancel the contracts because they still want to give negotiations a chance to succeed. The two sides have been bargaining for seven months over new contracts for the nearly 4,000 Yale workers in locals 34 and 35, with virtually no progress in recent months.

But regardless of whether the extended contracts avert impending strikes, neither side has expressed optimism about reaching a settlement in the near future.

University leaders said they did not expect any job actions during the next month because union leaders have historically honored their contracts.

But Local 34 President Laura Smith would not rule out the possibility of job actions in October.

“We have a number of options available to us,” Smith said. “We remain hopeful that we can in fact achieve a good contract and hopefully peacefully, but if and when it becomes necessary for us to take any other actions, we’ll make all of our strategic decisions at that time.”

Under the current contracts, workers are allowed to hold sympathy strikes if other unions under the same employer are on strike. Dietary workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, who are represented under the Service Employees International Union District 1199 and aligned with locals 34 and 35, have indicated that they may hold a three-day strike in October after more than two years of negotiations on their own contracts.

Whether the hospital can be considered the same employer remains a major source of dispute between the two sides, something recently emphasized after union members were arrested outside Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Ray Milici, a dietary worker at the hospital who is on the union’s negotiating committee, said hospital workers were planning to escalate their pressure on the hospital after two years of unsuccessful negotiations. Milici said workers would consider holding a three-day walkout in mid- or late October if other job actions fail.

“We’ve been nice for the last couple years,” Milici said. “We’ve been trying to negotiate, to talk. Now we have to do something and this fall we’ve teamed up with locals 34 and 35.”

Milici added that if the hospital workers strike, locals 34 and 35 and GESO would also hold their own strikes.

Smith declined to comment on whether locals 34 and 35 would walk out in sympathy if hospital workers strike next month, saying she would not respond to hypothetical situations. Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said Yale officials do not believe the unions would violate their contracts and hold job actions.

Possibly undercutting these beliefs, union leaders have remained aligned with graduate students and hospital workers trying to form a union, and say Yale must address the unionization efforts of both groups in order to achieve labor peace on campus. Yale leaders continue to oppose the union strategy — opposing graduate student unionization in general, and arguing that Yale cannot influence the hospital.

Union leaders have also said they do not foresee any resolutions unless Yale’s leaders attend bargaining sessions. Levin has said he places full trust in his bargaining team and has played a more active role in negotiations than any past president has.

While the two sides differ dramatically on economic proposals, union leaders have said the real sticking point is respect for unions.

Most recently, the two sides have disagreed over how to establish a joint labor-management committee to address workplace issues and the overall labor-management relationship.

Union leaders criticized the University’s plan, saying it does not provide funding or authority for a meaningful committee, while Yale officials have declined to comment on negotiation issues.

University leaders, meanwhile, have emphasized that they want to settle contracts as soon as possible.

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