Sides join to smooth relations



University and union officials will meet today for the second time to discuss ways to create a better relationship between the two parties and try to avoid acrimonious negotiations during future contract negotiations.

The four-member Policy Board — consisting of Yale Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper, Yale School of Medicine Interim Chief Financial Officer Jed Shivers, Local 34 President Laura Smith, and Local 35 President Bob Proto — first met last Thursday to discuss, among other things, improving productivity, increasing worker satisfaction and providing for career development, Pepper said. Proto said the board will probably talk this week about sending a letter and survey to the Yale community and naming the members of a 10-person Innovative Work Systems Initiative Steering Committee.

“We discussed and agreed on the need for a cultural change to take place at the University,” Proto said. “One that we show from the top down in regard to our commitment to making Yale a more harmonious place.”

Pepper said he wanted to wait until after the board’s second meeting to comment in detail on their plans, but said they had a “very good first meeting.”

Locals 34 and 35 are Yale’s largest unions, representing about 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance employees. Members of both unions went on strike for three weeks last fall. Contract negotiations have resulted in nine union walkouts during the last 11 rounds of negotiations.

After the two sides signed eight-year contracts Sept. 18, University and union negotiators said they hoped to use the extended contract term to reevaluate their historically contentious relationship. Representatives from both sides said the new contracts contain the first large-scale framework to improve labor relations at Yale — a marked change from previous contracts, which did not provide built-in strategies to enact change in the long term. The Policy Board and Innovative Work Systems Initiative Steering Committee are written into the contracts.

Proto said the board plans to jointly send a letter to the entire Yale community about their basic mission within the next couple of weeks. He said they also plan to create a survey asking questions about the climate at the University and the overall culture. The board would benefit from learning about situations both where workers and management have a positive relationship and where there are serious problems, Proto said.

Proto said the target group for the survey has not yet been selected, but that he is pushing for the audience to be as widespread as possible.

The board also plans to discuss reaching out and talking to their “customers” through representatives such as the Yale College Council, the Council of Masters, and college deans, Proto said. He said the board had discussed going to a YCC meeting together and speaking with the representatives.

“Having them not involved when you try to change the culture and the relationship is just not good business,” Proto said.

YCC President Elliot Mogul said in an e-mail that the YCC would be “very interested” in meeting with the board or with individual members in order to “discuss further how the YCC or students in general can supplement their efforts.”

Proto said the steering committee would have 10 members, with five appointed from the University, three from Local 34 and two from Local 35. He said the members of the committee are almost finalized.

Smith said details of the board were still being fleshed out, but she said she had personally been fighting to improve the relationship between Yale and its workers since Local 34 was created.

“We want to be able to have a better relationship with our employer so we can jointly solve our problems with both our concerns at heart,” Smith said.

Shivers could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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