Supporters protest layoffs

More than 100 Yale union workers and their supporters rallied at noon Wednesday outside University Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper’s office to protest the layoffs of 38 clerical and technical workers.

Yale officials have maintained that layoffs are necessary to reduce a projected $30 million budget deficit in the next fiscal year and to increase the overall efficiency of the University. But Laura Smith — the president of Local 34, which represents many of the laid-off workers — said at the rally that the layoffs, announced over the past three weeks, were unnecessary and derided Pepper for bringing a “Procter & Gamble” corporate culture to Yale.

“We will not let John Pepper strip away all that Yale can and will be in this community under the guise of some fabricated budget deficit,” Smith said. “With or without you, John Pepper, we will build a future for Yale that we will all be proud of.”

Smith’s attacks largely focused on Pepper, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Procter & Gamble who took his post at Yale Jan. 1.

Pepper, who said he was not at his office today and did not see the rally itself, said the need to reduce costs was being operated on before he ever came to Yale. He said the University performed a “careful study” of the work being done to determine where changes should be made.

Yale has respect for the individuals involved in the layoffs and is taking steps to help them find other jobs at Yale or, if they prefer, somewhere else, Pepper said. But he said these cuts need to be made to avoid the “crises” that have caused greater numbers of layoffs at other universities and allow Yale to grow and thrive.

“To do that we have to be in a strong financial position,” Pepper said. “And you cannot do that if you’re in a deficit.”

The total number of layoffs, which includes more managerial and professional employees than clerical and technical workers, will be in the low 70s, Yale Chief Human Resources Officer Robert Schwartz said last week. He said no service and maintenance workers would be let go. Schwartz was unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Smith called forward approximately 20 laid-off workers to take the stage at the rally.

“It’s difficult to go out and start a new career,” Stanley Kobylanski, a 52-year-old laid-off telecommunications worker, said. “I’d like Yale to rescind the layoffs. Our major concern is the battle we wage with subcontracting and outsourcing our work.”

Outsourcing and subcontracting are major concerns, and the practice is more typical of large corporations than the ideal university, union officials said. Smith said she had hoped, following contract settlements in September, that Yale would work to improve relations with its unions.

“I thought [that] at last a real decision maker would be working with us to make Yale better,” Smith said. “He is certainly not yet working with us on Yale’s promise of a real partnership. This falls right in line with the history of John Pepper as the CEO of Procter & Gamble.”

Pepper said that he has “excellent relations” with both Smith and Bob Proto — the president of Local 35, which represents Yale’s service and maintenance workers — and believes the fact that these layoffs are occurring will not stop the work on improving labor relations at the University.

“I believe in dialogue on these subjects,” Pepper said. “Unions are important organizing units and should be respected as such. But we are all part of the Yale family.”

Bob Proto, the president of Local 35, which represents Yale’s service and maintenance workers, pledged to support the clerical and technical workers in their fight against the layoffs.

“You’re not getting along with Local 35 if you’re hurting our brothers and sisters in Local 34, that I’ll tell you now,” Proto said, arousing chants of “John Pepper, we’ll be back.”

Schwartz has said he cannot speculate on future layoffs, but that the University will continue to work to improve efficiency.

More than 100 union workers and supporters, including Local 34 President Laura Smith (right), gather to protest the layoff of 38 clerical and technical workers over the past three weeks.
Philip Rucker
More than 100 union workers and supporters, including Local 34 President Laura Smith (right), gather to protest the layoff of 38 clerical and technical workers over the past three weeks.

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