Unions make new contract offer

Yale’s two largest unions withdrew their demand that the University recognize organizing efforts of graduate students and Yale-New Haven Hospital workers in their latest contract proposals.

With a strike set to begin Aug. 27, leaders for locals 34 and 35 made a number of concessions in the contract presented Tuesday, including shedding their request the University recognize “card-count neutrality” for graduate students and hospital workers. The concessions – including modified salary and job security proposals – have both sides hoping a strike can be avoided.

Local 34 President Laura Smith said she hopes the formal withdrawal of the unions’ organizing demands would focus attention on averting another strike, which could last indefinitely.

“For all intents and purposes, it’s been a non-issue except in Yale’s mind,” said Smith of the organizing efforts. “So we took it off [our list of proposals].”

Yale officials said they would respond to the unions’ offer at Thursday’s bargaining session. Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said the school’s negotiators have always maintained that they would not discuss other organizing drives at the bargaining table and said he is optimistic that new proposal is a step in the right direction.

“Whether it’s in their formal proposals or not, it can remain an issue for [the unions],” he said. “But if it’s an acknowledgment by them that it should not be an issue for them in the contract for their employees – that’s welcome on our part.”

The unions’ latest offer also reduces raises for some workers and drops demands relating to health care premium limitations, parking, health and dental insurance improvements, workers compensation and funding best practices initiatives.

The proposal is the latest movement on either side since the unions announced last week their intention to strike on Aug. 27 if a contract settlement is not reached by that date. The walkout – which would begin on the day dorms open for the fall semester – would be the second job action in this round of talks since the unions held a one-week strike in March.

Hospital workers plan to participate in next week’s strike, while GESO members plan to picket with striking workers, but will not hold a walkout.

Contract talks, which began in February 2002, had been at a standstill since May, as the two sides did not meet for most of the summer. Negotiations resumed last week with both sides presenting new offers, but both Yale and union leaders say they are still far apart on several economic issues.

The unionization efforts of the GESO and the hospital workers have been a major obstacle in this round of talks, with locals 34 and 35 demanding the university recognize card-count neutrality in both organizing efforts. If a majority of graduate students or hospital workers signed union cards, then they could officially start a union. Yale has maintained it will only recognize the results of a National Labor Relations Board-sanctioned election.

Smith said the unions maintained the organizing drives in their formal list of demands because they held out hope that Yale President Richard Levin’s promise for a partnership between the University would result in movement on that issue. But she said the most important goal at this point is reaching an agreement soon.

“We want to take care of our contracts first and then get [GESO and the hospital workers’ concerns] straightened out,” said Local 35 steward Donald Spencer.

Graduate School Dean Peter Salovey said the unions’ new proposal does not mean that GESO is no longer an issue.

“It certainly does not take GESO off the table,” he said.

In an unofficial election April 30, graduate students narrowly voted against unionization. GESO leaders said at the time that they would spend the summer rethinking the direction the group would take in the fall.

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