Yale police officers leafleted outside Woolsey Hall Saturday in the first public airing of their union’s frustration with their contract negotiations. The leafleting followed a bargaining session Wednesday that union officials characterized as unproductive.
About 10 officers handed out pamphlets at the Freshman Assembly and at the Parents’ Weekend concert, which was organized by the Yale Police Benevolent Association. The YPBA — the labor union for the Yale Police Department — has been renewing a contract for its 55 members on a monthly basis since the contract expired 15 months ago. If either side cancels the contract, the police are allowed to begin job actions, which could include a strike.
“[A strike] is an option at one point or another we’ll have to make a decision on,” YPBA chief steward Christopher Morganti said. “As a team, it’s something we won’t hesitate to do.”
The contract is extended automatically unless either side gives notification it will cancel by the 15th of the month. The next bargaining session is scheduled for Oct. 16.
“[We] probably will go another month without canceling a contract,” Morganti said.
The YPBA rejected Yale’s last contract offer May 23. Since then, the University and its police union have clashed in negotiations over wages, benefits, pensions and due-process protection.
University Secretary Linda Lorimer said while some issues still needed to be resolved, Yale is offering a fair contract.
“The compensation offered to our police officers is quite good, and the benefit packages are outstanding,” Lorimer said.
Inside the Woolsey Hall Rotunda this weekend, University officials stated their position on the ongoing contract talks by handing out a letter from Lorimer. In the letter, Lorimer said Yale police are given benefits that are unusual for a police force, such as free health care, a college scholarship program for officers’ children and inclusion in the Yale Homebuyer Program.
Through most of the negotiations, both sides had agreed not to go to the press, YPD officer John Grottole said, but that agreement expired in August. Public demonstrations by the police were supposed to take place since the beginning of the year, he said, but the strike by Yale’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, led to increased police overtime.
YPD officer Dave Maughan said the response to the YPBA pamphlet had been mostly positive.
“Most people are taking one,” Maughan said. “It’s about the safety of their kids, so it’s good reading.”
Estee Pickens, who was attending the Freshman Assembly with her daughter, expressed frustration that labor unrest was interfering with the event. The convocation speech is held annually during freshman orientation but was rescheduled this year because of concerns that locals 34 and 35, on strike at the time, would picket.
“Oh, not again,” Pickens said. “I think it’s a bad standard to just look at how much Yale has and say, ‘We should get more.'”
Most students said they did not even notice the officers. Rachel Jeffers ’07 said she did not think the leafleting detracted from the assembly and thought the pamphlet was useful.
“I hadn’t really heard that they were looking for better contracts,” Jeffers said. “It was a shock to me.”
When negotiations stalled over the summer, Yale enlisted the help of Joseph Dubin, a federal mediator, who helped to mediate talks between Yale and locals 34 and 35 last fall. YPBA leaders and Yale negotiators held their most recent bargaining session Wednesday, Morganti said. The two sides did not negotiate face to face, he said, but stayed in two separate rooms while Dubin went back and forth. Morganti said Yale retracted some of the concessions it had made in previous bargaining sessions, which he took as a sign of bad faith.
A contract cancellation creates the possibility of job actions by YPD officers. In the last renegotiation, Yale officers staged a “blue flu,” in which 95 percent of the officers who were scheduled to work called in sick. Yale police also held a “speed-up” in which police use their discretionary power to give out as many tickets as possible. A strike was barely averted during the 1998 negotiations.
Lorimer said Yale would contract outside security forces in the event of a police strike.
YPD officer Elias Roman said YPD officers deserve benefits similar to those of New Haven police officers because they are increasingly involved in more dangerous city police work. Roman himself injured his back in a fight on duty, he said.
“If you get injured on the job, after 30 days they take your gun and badge away,” Roman said. “The reward I got for risking my life was getting my badge taken away.”
Morganti said the most thorny issue dividing the two sides was due process in police disciplinary actions. In normal police departments, he said, police facing department discipline are given desk duty.
“Our chief seems to very quickly suspend you without pay,” Morganti said. “You might as well be fired then because you’re not receiving a paycheck.”
Grottole said the YPBA was not trying to disrupt Parents’ Weekend but wished to increase awareness on campus about this less-publicized labor dispute.
“We’re keeping it low key,” Grottole said. “We could have bullhorns.”