Locals 34 and 35, Yale’s two labor unions that together represent over 4,500 employees across the University, voted to approve an early contract agreement Tuesday night, marking what University President Richard Levin said he hopes will be a “new chapter” in Yale’s relations with labor unions.
“This is truly a historic day for Yale University, for the community in which we all live and work,” Levin said. “An extraordinary achievement.”
The new three-year contracts will improve health benefits, increase job security and allow both unions to increase in number. In return, the unions have agreed to alter their wage system over the next three years to save the University money.
For decades, Yale and its unions have shared a contentious relationship. But University administrators and union officials attributed the creation of the early agreement to Best Practices, an initiative created in 2002 to foster better communication.
“In the past, everyone would approach us whenever we had difficulties with the University in settling contracts [and say,] ‘You should do something to mend your broken relationship, fix your broken relationship.’ I argue we didn’t have a relationship,” Local 35 President Bob Proto said Tuesday. “That is what happened this time around: We actually developed a relationship. We talked to each other.”
INCREASED JOB SECURITY
Dozens of interviews over the last two weeks indicated that union members wanted to see strong job security language in their 2010 contracts in light of recent economic uncertainty.
In the new Local 34 contract, there will be improvements to the Interim Employment Pool — which allows Local 34 workers actively searching for a permanent job to stay on full pay and benefits and come to work at the University as casual employees. Like Local 34’s 2002 contract, its new contract does not include a no-layoff policy. According to the 2002 contract, union members can stay in the IEP from one to 18 months. In the new contract, the minimum duration for which members can stay on IEP will be extended to six months, and the maximum will be extended to 22.5 months.
The new contract for Local 34 — which represents Yale’s clerical and technical staff — puts an increased emphasis on placing recently laid off and current IEP members into open University jobs. University and union officials now pledge that, of the union jobs to be offered to members through 2010, at least 50 percent will be given to those who are in the IEP or have been recently laid off. And the number of people who staff the Local 34 Job Search Team, which supports laid-off Local 34 employees through job counseling and career placement, will be increased from four to six.
On the other hand, the new contract for Local 35 — which represents Yale’s service and maintenance staff — will retain its previous no-layoff clause.
Interviews with dozens of unionized employees over the last two weeks indicate that union members were willing to accept their new contracts early because of the poor state of the job market and the ongoing University layoffs.
Levin told reporters after the conference that a “small number” of layoff notices were handed out over the last month. Smith said after the conference she did not know how many were from Local 34. But at least 20 staff have already been notified, the News learned late last week.
In exchange for improvements to job security provisions, University unions spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’05 said, some changes to Local 34’s wage structure was made.
For the first year of the new contract, Local 34 members will have a wage freeze. For the next two years, Local 34 members will receive a 2 percent salary raise each year.
In contrast, for the duration of the 2002 contract, Local 34 members received 4 to 5 percent raises each year. Cobb said the raises were put in place because the wages for those positions were low. The raises, he said, have now brought them up to a competitive level.
“The salaries have a much better starting position at the beginning of this contract than it did in the previous contract,” he said.
For Local 35, members will receive a 2 percent raise the first year and a 3.25 percent raise for each year following that. Local 35 has received 2 percent raises in recent years.
Despite altering the wage system, the contract will also provide opportunities for the unions to grow in size.
“We have forged an agreement that guarantees that Yale and our unions not only maintain the standard of providing the best jobs in the regions,” Local 34 President Laura Smith said, “[but also that] there will be more jobs.”
All service and maintenance jobs at West Campus will be unionized under Local 35, Cobb said, and some subcontracting at buildings there will be given to Local 35 workers.
For Local 34, University administrators and union officials pledged to clarify distinctions for the higher-pay labor grades, C to E. (Labor Grade E is the highest pay grade for Local 34 members, and in the 2002 contract, it is given to positions with duties of “high skill, unusual skills, or lead responsibilities.”)
The clarifications, Cobb said, may allow some lower pay union workers to advance to a higher pay grade. The move may also provide opportunities for lower-level managers, who are not unionized, to become unionized Local 35 staff members with a Labor Grade E position, Cobb added.
A CHANGED RELATIONSHIP
In his first public remarks on the tentative union contract agreement and tonight’s ratification votes by Locals 34 and 35, University President Richard Levin called Tuesday historic for the University in hope that the contract will start a “truly new chapter” in Yale’s embattled labor union history.
“As you all know, our history is not one that any of us can be proud of,” he told the crowd of dozens at a press conference today. “We’ve had way too many strikes, way too many bitter disputes over the years.”
To dozens of reporters, union members, and invited city and state officials, Levin, along with Smith and Proto, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and other local officials, praised the agreement forged an unprecedented nine months early between the University and the two labor unions.
A laundry list of state and city officials appeared at the press conference this afternoon in Horchow Hall: state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, state Secretary of the State and 2010 gubernatorial candidate Susan Bysiewicz ’83, Board of Aldermen President and Ward 30 Alderman Carl Goldfield, Ward 5 Alderman Jorge Perez and many others.
“Today is about community,” Blumenthal said in a short speech, “about recognizing that Yale University is the greatest teaching institution in the planet, and this agreement is worthy of the greatest teaching institution in the world, because it recognizes fairly and fully the worth and the work that people contributed.”
Although many dining hall workers and cooks are members of Local 35, University administrators confirmed that there was a plan in place to allow the members to attend their ratification vote tonight during dinner hours. Proto said after the conference that increased preparatory work for dinner service was done, and Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna King said before the press conference that managers would be filling in to help with dining hall services last night.
The new contract will expire on Jan. 14, 2013.