Strike may rattle labor peace

While hundreds of graduate students are on strike for University recognition and unionization, some leaders of Yale’s unions said the administration’s refusal to negotiate threatens to sour their labor relations as well.

The leadership of locals 34 and 35, the unions representing clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers at the University, has consistently voiced its support for the unionization of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization in recent weeks. Between 200 and 300 union members have appeared daily at the GESO rallies, and over 60 contracted Yale employees filed onto one of six buses traveling to Manhattan yesterday to join a protest with graduate students at Columbia University, union research analyst Antony Dugdale said. Some union officials said the strike is affecting their own relationships with Yale, but University administrators said they have not seen such effects.

“To my knowledge, I would say there have been no issues with the Yale labor force at all,” chief human resources officer Rob Schwartz said. “I hear that they’ve been very vocal in their support, but at least as it relates to local 34 and 35, it has not had a noticeable effect on their work.”

But Local 35 president Bob Proto said relations between Yale and its unions — still struggling to forge a partnership with the University following the end of the unions’ own strike in September 2003 — have been more tense in the wake of the GESO strike.

“It casts a shadow over what we’re trying to accomplish in regards to the partnership, there’s no doubt,” Proto said. “We now have to lead two lives, one of trying to change this place, and one of continuing what we’re all about, which is to give people a voice.”

Proto said the locals’ national parent union, UNITE HERE, will continue as necessary to fund additional transportation, the printing of protest signs and other GESO expenses during the job action. Among the daily costs of the strike, he said, are provisions and salaries for several dining services workers who took time off in order to work in the GESO “strike kitchen” every morning. UNITE HERE is paying the Local 35 members while they are on leave from Yale’s kitchens, Proto said.

Schwartz said three individuals requested and were granted such leaves of absence last week, shortly after representatives from Local 34, made up of clerical and technical workers, announced plans by some of its members to join GESO protests during their lunch hours.

“Certainly people can use their lunch time as appropriate,” Schwartz said. “Their informing us and the request by union leadership was very respectful, and I certainly appreciate them making us aware.”

Proto said the unions will continue to work with the University. Still, he said that work would not prevent their members from continuing to support the striking graduate students beyond the rest of the week’s scheduled protests.

“Our people understand how important it is for GESO to have a seat at the table with us, and we’re going to continue to fight for them,” he said. “We’re going to stay the course on best practices and our partnership, but we’re also going to support GESO in any way we can.”

Schwartz said he is optimistic that the University’s joint Initiative Steering Committee meeting with local union representatives will be unaffected by the GESO strike and take place as scheduled next week.

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