On the first day of a strike at the city’s largest employer, the New Haven Board of Aldermen passed a resolution Monday night requesting that University President Richard Levin and the leadership of the Yale unions “recommit together to the creation of a new partnership.”
The resolution, though favoring neither negotiating party in its language, was the subject of a lively public hearing last week. Through a speedy procedural vehicle designed to bypass the standard weeks of deliberation, the resolution came before the full board for the final decision last night. The affirmative outcome could become a major factor in labor negotiations in the coming weeks.
Ward 10 Alderman Edward Mattison, who authored the resolution, said he has seen the University and its workers battle to the point of a strike too many times.
“I introduced this resolution because since I’ve been in New Haven, there have been eight strikes,” Mattison said. “It behooves us as citizens of New Haven to bring both sides together and bring an end to this public acrimonious debate.”
The resolution, which also calls for board President Jorge Perez to appoint an ad-hoc committee to meet with Levin and union leaders, passed with 20 votes in favor, three opposed, and two abstentions.
Ward 9 Alderman John Halle, a Yale music professor, spoke passionately in favor of the resolution, relating his personal experience with members of locals 34 and 35 on a daily basis.
“I speak in the capacity of a Yale faculty member who loves his job,” said Halle. But he said he sympathized with the University librarians and maintenance workers he interacts with on a regular basis.
Halle told the story of an alderman’s mother who worked at Yale for 38 years and retired with a pension of less than $400 per month. Inadequate pension plans for long-time employees is a key complaint of the striking union workers.
“In my opinion, that transcends human decency,” Halle said. “And I have to face that every day.”
Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, associate vice president for the Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, said he was pleased with the passage of the resolution.
“We are pleased that the aldermen have called for a resolution without conflict or acrimony,” Morand said.
Dissenting from the majority were the board’s two Republican alderwomen and Ward 26 Alderwoman Lindy Gold. Gold objected to the resolution on the grounds that labor negotiations between a private employer and its workers were beyond the purview of the the board.
“I think this is an issue that doesn’t belong in our chamber,” Gold said. “I don’t believe that this board brings any expertise that they couldn’t otherwise avail themselves.”
Ward 25 Alderwoman Nancy Ahern, who kicked off the meeting by delivering the Republican State of the City address which criticized the bussing of city students, also questioned the board’s role in the resolution.
“I really don’t believe this body belongs ‘at the table’, as it were, in negotiations,” Ahern said.
The two abstentions were the subject of a heated debate over the interpretation of the board’s code of ethics.
Just as Community Development Committee chairwoman Robin Kroogman was about to introduce the resolution, Ahern interrupted with a pointed request that two members of the board abstain from voting — or even testifying — on the piece of legislation. The board’s bylaws require that any member who stands to reap financial gains from the outcome must abstain from voting on the item.
Ward 27 Alderman Philip Voigt, a member of local 35, took immediate umbrage at Ahern’s request.
“Is the alderwoman saying we don’t have a right to free speech in this country?” asked Voigt, sparking a debate with Ahern.
Perez suggested it was up to individual aldermen to speak or recuse themselves entirely.
“I think the appropriate thing would have been for them to leave the room and not participate in the debate and vote,” Ahern said.
No timeline has been announced for the appointment of the ad-hoc committee or which aldermen will constitute its membership.