Union leaders submitted a proposal to Yale President Richard Levin Wednesday asking that the University and the unions submit the unresolved terms of their contracts to binding arbitration by a neutral party. Yale administrators called binding arbitration a poor substitute for bargaining and indicated they prefer to settle contracts at the bargaining table.
Local 34 President Laura Smith and Local 35 President Bob Proto said they suggested binding arbitration in order to avoid the strikes that have plagued past negotiations. In binding arbitration, both sides’ proposals would be submitted to a neutral decision-maker who would then settle the differences between the parties.
Yale and its two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, have been negotiating new contracts for nearly 4,000 workers since last February. Talks have stalled in recent months, as the two sides have clashed over wages, benefits and other non-economic issues.
Locals 34 and 35 represent Yale’s clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers.
The University has an acrimonious labor history, with seven of the last 10 negotiations resulting in strikes. Union leaders have proposed binding arbitration in several past negotiations, but University leaders have never agreed to the process.
Proto said the union proposal represents a step toward finding a way to avoid strikes.
“Arbitration, not strike, is absolutely a better way,” he said. “The University has the opportunity to grab onto a peaceful way to resolve our differences. I’m hopeful to get a positive response from Rick Levin.”
Smith said the unions’ offer to Levin is a “leap of faith” for both sides.
“We’re willing to take those risks,” she said. “We aren’t afraid to put our positions under that kind of scrutiny.”
Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the suggestion is a “poor solution” because a neutral arbitrator does not have a stake in the terms of the contracts.
“It is much better for the parties to agree themselves because it is the parties who will have to live under the settlements that are reached,” Conroy said.
He said that though the unions have proposed moving to binding arbitration in previous negotiations, the two sides have been able to settle contracts between themselves.
“The University and the unions have reached excellent agreements in the past without the need for arbitration,” he said.
In this round of contract talks, union leaders have insisted that the University’s proposals are inadequate. But Yale officials continue to maintain that contracts can be settled swiftly if the unions shift their focus away from the organizing drives of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization and workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital and turn their attention to the bargaining table.
The two sides renew contracts for locals 34 and 35 on a monthly basis unless either side opts to cancel the contracts 15 days before the end of the month. The contracts contain “no strike, no lockout” clauses that prohibit job actions while the contracts are in effect. The contracts are currently effective through March 1, and will continue through April if neither side cancels contracts by the end of next week.