Unions rally as talks stall

Sporting masks of a two-faced Yale President Richard Levin and a theme song about him, Yale union members held a lunchtime rally outside the Omni Hotel Wednesday to protest the lack of progress in contract talks.

Union leaders said approximately 800 workers convened amid light snowfall outside the Omni, where Yale and union negotiators are holding bargaining sessions for new contracts. Wearing masks depicting two-faced images of Levin, union members gathered to hear speeches by Local 34 President Laura Smith and Local 35 President Bob Proto. They also heard a speech by John Wilhelm ’67, the president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, or HEREIU, the parent group of Yale’s unions.

The union members stood on both sides of Temple Street demanding that contracts be settled immediately and chanting that Levin has not delivered on his promise of a partnership between Yale and locals 34 and 35.

The rally took place as the University and its unions continue to negotiate contracts for nearly 4,000 workers. Talks began last February, after contracts expired in January. Though negotiators for both parties have held full-table bargaining sessions in the last few weeks, the two sides have not reached any major agreements on wages, benefits and many other non-economic issues.

Locals 34 and 35 represent Yale’s clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers.

Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said Wednesday’s rally will not have an effect on settling contracts.

“We’re focused on the bargaining table because that’s the only place where we’re going to produce results,” he said.

The rally began with a performance by the “FHUE Singers,” a group of union members who sang an adapted version of “I Will Follow Him,” by Little Peggy March. The adapted lyrics expressed the singers’ plans to “follow Levin wherever he may go,” a reference to recent protests by union supporters outside Levin’s appearances in other cities.

FHUE, or Federation of Hospital and University Employees, includes locals 34 and 35 as well as graduate students and hospital workers trying to gain union recognition.

Referring to Yale’s acrimonious labor history, which has included strikes in seven of the last 10 contract negotiations, Smith told the crowd outside the Omni that the unions were optimistic about building a new model of labor relations when this round of talks started.

“We had great hopes when this process began a year ago,” she said. “But we have been disappointed time and time again.”

Smith said the unions are prepared to fight to realize a true partnership.

“For us, this is a fight worth having,” she said. “We should not have to face a strike every few years just to achieve fair contracts.”

Smith then introduced Wilhelm, who announced that he would be at Yale for the duration of negotiations. He said he has seen the University try to divide locals 34 and 35, but that the unions will continue to support one another.

“All of us rely on one another for our futures to be secure,” Wilhelm said. “I look forward to working with you for the rest of this fight.”

Proto said that throughout past negotiations and past strikes, the unions have always remained united.

“Standing together is part of our history,” he said. “We are Yale, and we’re the ones that really tell the truth.”

Local 34 member Daniel Brinkman said union members are getting frustrated by the lack of progress at the bargaining table.

“Our rhetoric’s getting a little bit stronger — we’re beginning to get angry,” he said.

University and union negotiators have scheduled bargaining sessions through the end of February. The two sides automatically renew contracts on a monthly basis unless either side opts to cancel contracts 15 days before the end of the month. The contracts contain “no strike, no lockout” clauses, which prohibit job actions while the contracts are in effect.

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