Bringing an end to this strike: easy as 1-2-3

Picket lines, marches, demonstrations, speeches by Jesse Jackson, Dennis Rivera, and John Sweeney — all the usual panoply of a strike at Yale is again in evidence this week, emblematic of the failure of the University and locals 34 and 35 to agree on a new contract after more than a year of bargaining.

In the bargaining that preceded the strike, the University and the unions reportedly reached agreement on some issues, such as the size of the increases in wages in the first year of the new contracts, and were within range of an agreement on others, such as the increases in wages in the later years of the contracts. They were reportedly further apart on such issues as pensions and retroactivity.

But to an outside observer, the critical issues that prompted the strike were not those bread-and-butter economic issues but rather the profound differences that exist between the University and the unions with regard to GESO’s effort to gain recognition as the collective bargaining agent for graduate teachers and researchers, and, to a lesser extent, District 1199′s effort to organize 1,800 employees of Yale New Haven Hospital. (District 1199, although belonging to the Service Employees International Union, is affiliated with the three Yale unions in the Federation of Hospital and University Employees.)

In their meeting on Monday, President Levin and Jackson reportedly agreed that the key to a settlement lies in “de-linking” the issue of recognition of GESO and District 1199 from the other issues. Yet anyone familiar with the organizing efforts in recent years of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union under the leadership of John Wilhelm ’67 knows the two locals are unlikely to withdraw their demand for a process that might lead to possible recognition for GESO. Conversely, anyone familiar with the University’s staunch opposition to unionization of its graduate students over the past decade knows it is unlikely to give in to that demand.

Can that issue be resolved? Or will the strike resume again after the spring recess? In January 2002, John R. Stepp of Restructuring Associates, Inc., a labor negotiation consultant, told the University and the unions that addressing the unionization question was a matter requiring immediate attention; there must be, he said, “some understanding of how the current organizing efforts will be conducted.” The matter is no less urgent, today. Here are three steps (no pun intended) that, taken together, might end the stalemate.

First, regarding the organization of the hospital workers, the unions should recognize that, as the University has often said, the hospital is a separate entity and the effort to organize the hospital workers falls outside the scope of the current negotiations. Indeed, in a decision two years ago involving a charge filed by Local 34 in a matter involving personnel in the medical school and Yale New-Haven Hospital, the NLRB upheld the findings and ruling of the administrative law judge who concluded, “There is a close working relationship between the Hospital and the Medical School. But the two entities are, in fact, separate enterprises having separate corporate officers, directors, managers, and staffs — Notwithstanding that each performs services for the other, Yale University Medical School and Yale New Haven Hospital are separate entities having separate sets of employees. Therefore, the employees of one are not, and have never been, the employees of the other.” (334 NLRB No. 123, 2001).

Second, regarding GESO’s effort to gain recognition as the collective bargaining agent for graduate student teachers and researchers, the unions should recognize that almost certainly will not happen through the simple presentation of cards signed by a majority of graduate students. Recognition by card count invites, indeed creates strong incentives for, every conceivable form of harassment and intimidation. The only way recognition is likely to happen is if GESO accepts, as unions affiliated with the UAW and the AFT and representing graduate assistants at NYU, Columbia, Penn, Brown and Cornell have, the use of an NLRB-sanctioned secret ballot election. That means, of course, that GESO would have to accept that it might lose the election, as indeed happened at Cornell last October. But it also means that it might win by a process that all would regard as legitimate, as happened in the precedent-creating election at NYU in 2000.

Third, in return for GESO’s willingness to pursue recognition through an NLRB-sanctioned secret ballot election, the University should agree — perhaps in an agreement modeled on the one the Cornell administration negotiated with the Cornell Association of Student Employees/UAW several months before the election last Fall — to honor the results of the election in the event the NLRB reaffirms its decision in the NYU case in appeals brought by Brown and Columbia after recognition elections in those institutions. In the NYU case, the Board found “there is no basis to deny collective bargaining rights to statutory employees merely because they are employed by an educational institution in which they are enrolled as students — Ample evidence exists to find that graduate assistants plainly and literally fall within the meaning of ‘employee’ as defined in Section 2(3) [of the NLRA].” It concluded “graduate assistants are employees as defined in Section 2(3) of the Act.” (332 NLRB No. 111, 2000).

Most faculty and students have, thus far, been only occasionally and mildly inconvenienced by the strike. But that may change if the strike resumes after the spring recess. The unions and the University should do everything in their power to reach agreement on new contracts before the resumption of classes in late March. Taken together, the three steps described here would make that possible.

David R. Cameron is the director of undergraduate studies in the Political Science Department. In 1996, he chaired the committee that designed the Graduate Student Assembly.