Retirees hope for more aid

Despite the University’s current budgetary malaise, the president of the Yale Unions Retiree Association told the News on Monday that she hopes Yale administrators will increase the pensions of some retirees in the upcoming negotiations for Yale Local 34 and Local 35 union contracts, which expire in less than a year.

Currently, pre-2002 retirees’ pensions are 35 percent lower than those of subsequent retirees’ due to a 2003 contract negotiation.

But in the first public comments made by Yale union affiliates regarding upcoming contract negotiations, YURA President Doris Rogan said Monday she believes administrators and union officials will agree on increasing old retirees’ pensions next year. Although Rogan said she hopes the older pensions will increase in next year’s union contract negotiations, Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel said the University is not obligated to commit to a raise.

Because of the obvious pension disparity between pre-2002 and subsequent retirees, Rogan said she believes the pension increase will be implemented.

“I’m optimistic because they have a conscience and they will honor us,” said Rogan, who was a Local 34 member before she retired in 1997. “We were so loyal and did all the work that makes Yale what it is. It wouldn’t be the great University it is today if it weren’t for the workers.”

In response, Peel said the University is “not obligated” to make any adjustments to retiree pensions, even though they occasionally look at pension plans.

Indeed, he added, although the troubling economic times mean administrators do not know what will appear on the union contracts 11 months from now, administrators can be optimistic.

“We look at these things periodically,” Peel said, “and [Rogan] may well prove right.”

In the past, negotiations have not ended well. Over the past 41 years, there have been eight strikes resulting from failed union contract negotiations.

Since 2003, though, University administrators have quietly consulted with unions to discuss concerns and union benefits in the lead up to the negotiations as part of the human resource department’s “Best Practices” initiative. Administrators said they hope this round of negotiations will end without conflict, and both administrators and union officials praise “Best Practices” as a possible means to ensuring a happy union ending.

But the poor state of the economy will be a more important aspect of next negotiations, and may dictate the University’s position.

Although the University has prescribed a 7.5-percent cut on staff salaries and non-personnel cuts, projected a round of staff layoffs, and announced a 2-percent cap or complete freeze on faculty salaries, Rogan said she believed the University would still be able to afford the increase in pensions because “Yale is wealthy.”

If Rogan’s proposal is agreed upon, up to 1,000 retirees — a group that is over 80 percent female and receives an average of about $580 a month — could enjoy fuller wallets next year.

University administrators have said they raised pre-2002 retirees’ pensions in 2004 and 2006. They added that the July 2006 raise was 4 percent at a time when inflation was 3 percent.

And Rogan said the 2003 proposal she and University Director of Human Resources Technology & Decision Support Chuck Paul created would have increased the pension further, though it would remain below the level of new retirees’ pensions. Paul did not return an e-mail and phone request for comment Monday.

In recent years, Yale retirees have hosted public panels and discussions to protest the University administration’s decision not to increase the pension plans of old retirees.

As part of their push to up pensions, Rogan and the two Yale union presidents, Laura Smith of Local 34 and Bob Proto of Local 35, wrote a letter two years ago to University President Richard Levin and Vice President for Finance and Administration Shauna King. In the letter, they mentioned the importance of increased pensions to employees — especially to women who stayed at home for many years to nurse children instead of returning to the workforce and earning a larger pension.

Smith and Proto could not be reached for comment Monday.

Six years ago today, Local 34 and 35 workers began their most recent strike.

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