Unions, GESO to strike March 3

Members of Yale’s two recognized unions, unionized workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital and some graduate students will hold a five-day strike during the first week of March, leaders announced Thursday.

The walkout will begin March 3 at 5 a.m. and continue through the evening of March 7, union members said. The groups may hold follow-up actions at the end of March, following spring break, union members said.

Locals 34 and 35, Yale’s two largest unions, represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers. Striking union members will not clean bathrooms, work in dining halls, perform administrative duties or do any other work in Yale buildings.

Members of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization who strike will not teach sections, attend classes or conduct research in University facilities.

The Service Employees International Union District 1199, which represents 150 dietary workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, will strike, and members will picket outside Yale University Health Services, according to an e-mail Associate Vice President for Administration Peter Vallone sent to Yale administrators.

Local 34 President Laura Smith said she remains somewhat hopeful that contracts can be settled in some other way. But she said workers are ready to strike for better wages, pensions, training, advancement and job security.

“We feel as though we’re left with no other choice but to plan for a strike,” she said. “No one certainly wants to strike but our members are more than willing to fight for these very serious issues.”

Yale President Richard Levin said he was disappointed that the four groups plan to strike. Levin said he believes the four groups’ collective action proves the University’s long-held belief that union leaders are focusing their efforts on the organizing drives of GESO and hospital workers instead of negotiating new contracts for their workers.

“The fact that the four organizations are striking together would seem to ratify what I’ve been saying since last May,” he said.

Union and GESO members said each day of the strike will address a different topic. On the first day of the strike, the Rev. Jesse Jackson will lead the unions in a march to the New Haven Green.

The University and locals 34 and 35 have been negotiating new contracts since last February. Union leaders have said Yale’s proposals on wages, benefits and other noneconomic issues are inadequate. Yale leaders insist that contracts could be settled quickly if union leaders were not focused on unionizing GESO members and hospital workers.

GESO has been trying to unionize graduate students at Yale for over a decade but has not formally requested an election. University officials have maintained that graduate students are not employees and cannot unionize.

GESO chairwoman Anita Seth GRD ’05 said she believes Levin is forcing the campus into a crisis by refusing to discuss a fair process of recognition for GESO.

“It would be a simple, simple thing for him to avert this situation,” she said.

University negotiators have maintained that they will not discuss GESO at the bargaining table. University leaders have said GESO should file for a National Labor Relations Board election if they wish to begin the process toward unionization.

District 1199 is currently in the process of negotiating a new contract for the dietary workers and is also trying to organize 1,800 other hospital workers. Yale officials have said they do not have control over the hospital because it is a separate institution.

District 1199 is closely aligned with locals 34 and 35.

Ray Milici, a member of District 1199, said he believes the collective decision to strike will force Yale to pay attention to the four groups’ demands more seriously.

“I think it’s going to strengthen our cause because they’ll see us joined together,” he said. “If we’re all out there, I’m sure they’ll take notice.”

Hospital spokeswoman Katie Krauss said the dietary workers’ decision was “regrettable.”

“Our reaction is that we think it’s unfortunate that they’ve decided to strike,” she said.

Yale and its unions have a tumultuous history of labor relations — the March strike will represent the eighth job action in the last 11 rounds of negotiations. In 1996, the last time locals 34 and 35 held strikes, each union staged separate, consecutive walkouts for four weeks each. Some GESO members also held a grade strike, withholding grades from the registrar at the end of the fall 1995 semester.

Local 35 member Debbie Hill, who works in the Jonathan Edwards College dining hall, said she has gone on strike twice during her 18 years at Yale. She said people are more hesitant to take job actions in this round of contract talks, in part because of the poor state of the job economy.

“People can’t afford to go out on strike,” she said.

Hill said she is not happy with the plan to strike, but she hopes the action will help workers get better pensions and wages.

“It’s hard right now, but we do what we’ve got to do,” she said.

Union leaders said they will continue to send negotiators to the bargaining table despite the impending strike. The two sides have scheduled bargaining sessions through the end of February.

Kevin Abels '05, center, is among the students who gathered on Beinecke plaza for a rally Thursday afternoon. Rally attendees voiced their opinions on the upcoming March strike by Yale unions, GESO and hospital workers.
Nathan Francis
Kevin Abels '05, center, is among the students who gathered on Beinecke plaza for a rally Thursday afternoon. Rally attendees voiced their opinions on the upcoming March strike by Yale unions, GESO and hospital workers.

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