Tensions possible in post-strike workplace



Nearly 4,000 Yale employees will return to work today with new contracts after union members ended a three-week strike Friday by ratifying an unprecedented eight-year job pact.

With full dining hall service beginning this morning and offices expected to return to full staffing levels, University managers are preparing to diffuse the likely tensions between workers who went on strike during the walkout and the significant percentage that did not. Union members, who will receive their first raises since February 2001, overwhelmingly praised the contracts at Friday’s ratification votes.

With about half of Local 35 and a quarter of Local 34 voting, workers nearly unanimously approved the contracts. Members of Local 35, which represents service and maintenance workers, approved the contracts 535-11, while members of Local 34, the clerical and technical workers’ union, voted for the contracts 765-10. Some chanted “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y” as they entered the meetings, acknowledging the end of one of Yale’s most protracted labor disputes.

Bob Scott, a cook at the Hall of Graduate Studies, said he was glad to return to his job under a reasonable contract.

“I’ve been employed here almost 24 years, and it’s the best contract and the best support [Local 35 has] ever gotten,” Scott said.

Anthony Kobylanski, a technician at the Peabody Museum, said he is happy he will be working instead of picketing.

“It’s tough to make ends meet when you’re walking on the streets,” he said.

The contracts, which will expire in January 2010, will address both the University’s call for a lengthier contract term and the unions’ demand for better pensions.

The agreement nearly doubles monthly pensions by raising the typical employee’s pension multiplier from about 1.08 to 1.48. The pension multiplier, which takes into account years of service and salary at retirement age, will be 1.5 on the first $30,000 of final salary, 1.4 on the next $25,000 and 1.3 on salary above $55,000.

Workers will also receive across-the-board raises that will, by January 2009, total 43.6 percent for Local 34 and 32.3 percent for Local 35.

Under the accord, union members will earn retroactive pay equal to two-thirds of the amount due to them, with a minimum payment of $1,500.

The average retroactive compensation will add up to over $2,500.

Yale officials said they were optimistic that the two sides could work toward a better relationship over the next eight years.

Brian Tunney, Yale’s director of labor relations and the University’s chief negotiator, said the contracts mark the first time Yale and union negotiators have worked out a plan to take specific steps for improving the two sides’ acrimonious relationship. The University will provide $200,000 to begin a program that addresses best practices.

“We got a framework where, if both sides apply themselves, we can actually accomplish something,” Tunney said.

Local 35 President Bob Proto said he hoped the two sides could avoid repeating a history that includes nine strikes in the past 35 years.

“If we do the work in this contract, we can avoid a repeated cycle of banging our heads against each other,” Proto said.

Interim Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said University officials will hold discussions with managerial and professional staff members on how to welcome back workers. She said the administration will also work with union leadership to help union members settle back into their jobs.

But some Local 34 members who went on strike said they anticipated some awkwardness when returning to work, since a large portion of the union — 65 percent by University estimates, 40 percent according to the unions — did not strike.

Elizabeth Johnson, who works at Sterling Memorial Library, said some union members are resentful that workers who went to their jobs during the strike will receive the same contract benefits as those who participated in the walkout.

“There’s a lot of anger,” Johnson said. “If we got this good a contract with one-third to one-half of the people out, we could’ve maybe done better or had a shorter strike.”

With contracts settled, Proto said union leaders will turn their attention to helping 150 dietary workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, who had been striking alongside locals 34 and 35 and still do not have contracts. The workers, who have been without a contract since January, voted to reject the hospital’s latest offer but said they will return to work early this week.

— Staff reporter Philip Rucker contributed to this report.

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