In recent weeks, many Yale workers around campus have been wearing buttons that read “I don’t want to strike but I will.”
Union members wore the same buttons in 1996, the last time Yale and its unions negotiated new contracts, and the last time union members went on strike.
With the high likelihood of a strike in March, members of locals 34 and 35 are facing a familiar situation. Seven of the last 10 negotiations have involved strikes.
But a year after union and Yale negotiators began contract talks with the hope of building a new, friendlier model of labor relations, Yale and union leaders have said they are disappointed by the reversion to the divisive tone of past years.
Yale and locals 34 and 35 have been negotiating new contracts for a year. Union leaders canceled contracts for March last Wednesday, opening up the possibility of a strike or job action after March 1.
Union members have hinted at a possible strike on March 3. Legally, union leaders must notify the University 10 days before holding a strike. In the event of a job action during the first few days of March, union leaders would have to announce their plans to strike by the end of this week.
Locals 34 and 35 represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers.
Members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization will vote this afternoon on whether to strike with locals 34 and 35 next month. GESO has been closely aligned with locals 34 and 35 and hopes to form a recognized graduate student union.
In this round of negotiations, union leaders have argued that the University does not treat its workers with respect and has not offered adequate proposals. But University officials have maintained that contracts could be settled quickly if the unions were not focused on organizing drives by GESO and workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Local 34 President Laura Smith said that though she knows that the two sides will eventually reach an agreement, she is disappointed that a settlement may not come without job actions.
“I know that we will ultimately achieve that, but I would like to achieve that without a strike,” she said. “That doesn’t look very likely at this point.”
Yale has a contentious labor history, with seven of the last 10 negotiations resulting in strikes. During the last round of contract talks in 1996, University and union negotiators clashed in a costly 13-month dispute over issues such as subcontracting, pensions and the hiring of casual workers.
Before this round of negotiations began, leaders from both sides worked with a labor-management consultant, John Stepp of the Washington, D.C.-based firm Restructuring Associates Inc., to foster a better relationship between Yale and the unions. Stepp supervised the first three months of bargaining, but left before the two sides began addressing economic issues in June.
Union leaders have said they are disappointed that the University has not followed up on Yale President Richard Levin’s pledge last year to improve labor relations.
But University leaders have said the underlying problem with this year’s negotiations has been union leaders’ decision to focus on unionizing GESO and hospital workers.
Union members voted to authorize union leaders to call job actions, such as strikes, during votes Sept. 4.