Unions find new forums for change

Union representatives are still protesting some Yale policies two years after the end of a protracted strike, but their voices are now filtered through committees rather than megaphones.

Though local union members have marched on University offices within the past month, Yale labor relations officials said they are addressing the most important labor-management issues in panels with representatives from both sides. They have formed committees to deal with concerns ranging from staff and faculty diversity policies to changes in benefits packages. Still, union leaders said these committees can devolve into a rehashing of old battles between the two camps, slowing progress.

“We still need to maintain dialogue and we plan on doing it, but there’s still the growing pains that we all need to go through to change our culture,” Local 35 President Bob Proto said. “Sometimes we fall back on using the committees to air grievances rather than to problem solve.”

If the committees can reach a consensus, this year will see critical steps in labor reform, management officials said. Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper said his top priority will be promoting the diversity of Yale’s approximately 8,100 staff.

“It sounds so simple, but we often don’t do it as well as we should,” Pepper said.

To encourage diversity, Yale officials are pushing for recommendations from the larger University community by the close of the fall, Human Resources Staffing Director Cathy Vellucci said. A subcommittee on diversity recruitment meets every few weeks to interview experts in the field and suggest venues for job postings, Vellucci said. She said she has also suggested the creation of a position — open to applicants next month — specifically devoted to increasing diversity on campus.

A lack of a job posting was the issue that prompted union protest in August, when members of Local 34 marched on the human resources office to allege that the University had violated contract language by promoting staff members through contract loopholes. Human resources officials denied the charges of breach of contract, but said they have not yet resolved the dispute.

“We’re still working through that issue to see if we can find an appropriate resolution to that,” Chief Human Resources Officer Rob Schwartz said, adding that a public venting of grievances would hinder the negotiation process. “Our primary focus is making sure … we demonstrate that we’re valuing people.”

Schwartz said the creation of committees designed to evaluate union training needs and internal promotions is also among his primary goals for this year, as are leadership development programs and performance evaluation reforms. Proto said union goals include the establishment of neutrality between the union locals and Yale amid pushes for further unionization among graduate students and hospital workers, which locals 34 and 35 support.

Yale’s “best practices” committees are already at work to increase communication between labor and management in the library system, dining services and the Yale golf course, among other areas. Five or six more best practices committees are planned for this year, Pepper said.

Union workers have struck nine times in the past 11 rounds of contract negotiations, but management and labor representatives said they believe negotiations will be less contentious when the current contract expires in 2010.

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