A group of Yale retirees began a vigil outside University President Richard Levin’s office Tuesday morning, saying they plan to stay in the shade on Beinecke Plaza until Yale and its unions reach a contract settlement.
Retirees said they will sit in four-hour shifts in front of Woodbridge Hall from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. indefinitely, while student supporters will take over at night and sleep on Beinecke. The retirees said their goal is to inform students, professors and others walking through Beinecke about their experiences living on a Yale pension, which they characterize as insufficient.
To kick off the vigil, approximately 200 to 300 striking workers formed a picket line outside Levin’s office around 11:00 a.m. The retirees also erected a wall on Beinecke, so retired union members could post testimonials and information regarding when they retired and what they earn in pensions.
Yale Unions Retirees Association President Doris Rogan, who retired in 1997 after working at Yale for ten years, said she receives $360 a month in pensions. She said the retirees are holding the vigil to give the pensions issue a personal perspective.
“We’re putting a face with the pensions,” she said.
But Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said the University’s pension offer is “very generous.” She said the unions should focus on making moves at the bargaining table.
“I think the way to resolve a contract is at the negotiating table, not by staging publicity events,” Klasky said. “Them sitting out there has zero impact on the negotiations.”
Local 35 President Bob Proto said he hoped the vigil will show current workers how difficult it is to retire on a Yale pension.
“They’re very courageous and they’re highlighting our flagship issue,” Proto said. “The fact is that the pension is long overdue for a major overhaul.”
Union leaders have said pensions are a salient issue in this round of talks because a significant percentage of union members will be retiring under this contract.
Negotiators for Yale and locals 34 and 35, who have been working towards new contracts for 20 months, said they have come closer recently on other contract issues, but still remain far apart on pensions.
The University’s most recent proposal offers a multiplier of 1.25 percent across all salary grades, while the unions are proposing a pension multiplier of 1.95 percent. The multiplier, in addition to years of service and salary at age of retirement, determines the value of pension packagers. Leaders have said there is still a $15 to $16 million gap in the first-year costs of the two sides’ proposals.
Lucille Dickess, who retired in 1994, said she thinks contracts would be settled quickly if the two sides reached an agreement on pensions.
“They’ve made progress in other areas, but until we directly address the pension issue, there’s going to be turmoil on this campus,” Dickess said.
Dickess said she will knit a blanket while sitting outside and plans to raffle it off to benefit the strike fund.
Though the retirees said the University is not legally bound to adjust pensions for retired union members, they said they hope their actions can help future generations of Yale workers retire with better pay.
“This is their future, and we are their past,” Dickess said. “You have to learn from your past.”