Federal mediator will monitor talks

Yale leaders announced Thursday that they will bring in a federal mediator to oversee the University’s contract talks with its two largest unions.

Eight months after negotiations began, the University hopes to bring in Joseph Dubin, a mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). Union leaders disagreed with the decision, saying they hoped to bring back the labor-management consultant the two sides worked with at the beginning of bargaining.

The mediator will enter negotiations Wednesday as Yale and locals 34 and 35 continue to clash over wages, benefits and several other non-economic issues. The two sides began negotiations in February using a new negotiation process facilitated by John Stepp, a consultant with the D.C.-based firm Restructuring Associates Inc. Stepp left before the two sides began addressing economic issues in June. Negotiators have met more than a dozen times since then but have made little progress, leaders said.

Locals 34 and 35 represent nearly 4,000 of Yale’s clerical, technical, service, dining hall and maintenance workers.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said he hopes the mediator will help the two sides come to an agreement on matters that have proven difficult so far.

“We are very far apart on wages and economic issues,” Conroy said. “We’re hopeful that a federal mediator can help us as we try to close this large gap.”

Conroy said that the University’s initial wage proposal differs from the unions’ by $60 million a year. He was hopeful that the mediator’s presence would bring the two sides closer to agreement on the issue.

Local 34 President Laura Smith said that in her 22 years of work at Yale, none of the federal mediators present at negotiations have helped to advance contract talks.

“As nice as the representatives from FMCS have been, they’ve never helped to facilitate any progress at all,” Smith said. She added that the only time she has seen progress at the bargaining table has been at the sessions moderated by Stepp.

Local 35 President Bob Proto said that because Stepp is familiar with labor issues at Yale and knows the key decision-makers, he should come back to facilitate discussion between Yale and the unions.

“We’re hoping that the University will see that our suggestion really makes the most sense,” Proto said. He added that Stepp has told union leaders that he believes there is “unfinished business” at Yale and that he is willing to return as long as both parties commit to doing hard work to make a settlement.

Conroy said that Stepp’s firm was hired only to facilitate interest-based bargaining.

“[Restructuring Associates Inc.] filled its role and now we’re in the new phase of bargaining,” he said. “Their role was not to be a mediator once we entered economic negotiations.”

Proto said he believes this latest University recommendation reflects Yale’s unwillingness to reach a settlement.

“The University can’t keep choosing third parties until they get someone that agrees with them,” Proto said.

At Wednesday’s negotiations, union leaders presented a wage proposal that would reduce their demands for annual salary raises by one percent for four years. The University declined to make a counterproposal to that offer at yesterday’s negotiations.

Local 34 President Laura Smith said union leaders had hoped the University would address the unions’ offer.

“They refused to respond to our wage proposal and then they made the suggestion about bringing in the mediator,” Smith said. “We’re very disappointed that the University would completely dismiss our very substantive move.”

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