Unions to vote on contract

After four decades of embattled negotiations between the University and its two labor unions, Local 34 and Local 35 are slated to vote on a new three-year union contract an unprecedented nine months ahead of time, union members said Friday.

If the vote passes — which is likely, according to interviews with a dozen union members and officials — it would be the first time in 22 years that a labor strike has not occurred during negotiations.

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The yet-to-be finalized agreement, which is similar to the current contract between the University and its unions, was announced to union members earlier this week. And although the unions have shared an rocky relationship with Yale over the past four decades, several union members said they feel optimistic about the future of the University’s relationship with its staff.

The fact that a contract was drafted early, some union members said, was emblematic of a departure from the past.

“It’s a historic turn of events to be in the situation that we are in,” Yale unions spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’05 said. “It’s an exciting moment to be in.”

But he added that he will not disclose details on the contract until the union decides whether to approve the current draft on April 14.

With some concessions by both parties — including stronger job security language, which was fought for by union officials after the University indicated that widespread layoffs were inevitable — the terms of the agreement are nearly the same as those stated in the current eight-year contract, union members said over the weekend. The members also stressed that the contract’s language has yet to be finalized.

The presidents for Locals 34 and 35 — Laura Smith and Bob Proto, respectively — did not return several requests for comment left over the weekend.

The dozen union members interviewed by the News over the weekend said University officials are excited about the agreement, even though they had to agree to concessions during the contract process.

Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel did not respond to multiple requests for comment over the weekend. The Labor-Management Relations division of the Human Resources Department referred comment Friday to the Office of Public Affairs. University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky had no comment when contacted by the News on Friday afternoon.

The union members said they were excited by the early creation of the new contract. Many declined to discuss specific details because they were told not to discuss them until the day of the vote.

Still, they attributed the creation of the early contract to a better relationship among the parties due to the “Best Practices” agreement created in the current contract. Modeled after labor practices in other corporate environments, the Best Practices board members, comprised of University administrators and union officials, can resolve conflicts and better labor relations, according to the Locals 34 and 35 union contracts.

Despite the years of conversations University administrators and union officials have had about their relationship and potential worker conflicts, the recent round of negotiations indicate that the unions kept the current economic uncertainty in mind. As recently as Wednesday, Local 34 members had been pushing for organized conversations about how the faltering economy would affect worker conditions in the immediate future.

Because University and union officials expect the economy to improve soon, the proposed union contract will only last three years.

For Maureen Jones, a library services assistant in Sterling Memorial Library and a steering committee member of the Best Practices initiative, the move is momentous.

“We had a strike almost every time a contract had been coming up. It’s been a very, very hard relationship and with the language that we won in our last contract [the “Best Practices” initiative], it set the precedent for trying to do it a new way,” said Jones, who is a Local 34 Executive Board member and had worked to create the union in 1983. “We try to understand their interest, and they try to understand ours.”

Shirley Lin, a Local 34 district representative who works in the Genetics Department in the School of Medicine, said the current agreement “adds progress and growth” to the union’s labor conditions and will allow the parties to revisit labor issues when the economy improves. She said she will vote for the agreement.

“I think it’d be a wonderful change of pace for students to go through a four-year or six-year program without having to encounter a strike,” she said.

To be sure, an agreement forged nine months early is a vast improvement from 2002, the last time the unions negotiated an agreement with Yale. Union members eventually voted to sign a contract with the University in September 2003, after 19 months of rocky negotiations and over four weeks of striking.

The contract’s eight-year term was the longest ever for a Yale labor contract, though the University had originally proposed a 10-year term at the time. Union members said the economy was better, and workers felt more comfortable with a long-term contract. The current contract will expire Jan. 20., 2010.

Local 34 is Yale’s clerical and technical employee union, and Local 35 is Yale’s service and maintenance employee union.

Isaac Arnsdorf and Paul Needham contributed reporting.

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