Striding into Battell Chapel before a vote on their new three-year labor contract, a group of women chanted at the top of their lungs.
“We are the unions, the mighty, mighty unions!”
Amid fears of job insecurity, Yale Local 34 and Local 35 union members overwhelmingly approved a three-year labor contract Tuesday evening. Despite a wage freeze next year, the contract also promises a host of benefits, such as an expanded Yale Health Plan under which workers’ dependents will be covered until age 25 at no premium cost. Most union members were visibly ecstatic to retain most, if not all, of their benefits during this economic crisis.
Custodian Iris Kendall, 40, has been part of Local 35, the union incorporating maintenance members, for four years.
“I know I’m happy ’cause I have a job,” she said. “The economy has affected everything, and I need to stay afloat.”
Dawn Esposito, 44, has been a Local 35 member for 25 years. She currently works as senior custodian for the Yale Center for British Art and sits on the Best Practices and Green committees.
“It’s always tough with contracts,” she said. She said she was glad that “we kept what we had.”
Esposito remembers the times, however, when she would walk the picket line from 6 a.m. onward. She also remembers the “paddywagon” coming and arresting fellow picketers.
She said they would burn fires in trash pails to keep warm during January strikes just before the contract signing deadline. Having this contract resolved in early April is astounding, Esposito said.
“This is unheard of,” she said. “They are understanding us more.”
Like Esposito, Nancy Faircloth, 57, a delivery assistant for Sterling Memorial Library, is pleased about the new contract. She has been a member of the Local 34 technical and clerical union since its inception in 1983.
“Unanimous,” she said of the excitement for the contract. “It was all yes.”
But not all members were satisfied.
Evelyn Wilson, senior administrative assistant at the Yale Medical School, has worked for Yale for over 20 years. Labeling Tuesday’s contract as “unfair,” she laughed at the idea of Yale benefiting from the new deal.
“The 1 ½-year wage freeze tells me that I am worth nothing,” she said. “We were meant to have a 5 percent wage increase in January.”
Wilson also dismissed suggestions that the new contract provides greater job security amid the economic downturn. And Wilson’s daughter, Carolyn, who has worked as an accounts assistant at the Yale Medical School for seven years, shared her mother’s disappointment.
“Yale has spent money frivolously,” she said. “They have sent faculty and management level staff on expensive retreats, to places such as Water’s Edge.”
In addition to being dissatisfied about switching a doctor they have had for 20 years because of the new contract, Carolyn Wilson said she believes Yale is not experiencing financial hardship.
“The tuition has gone up to $47,000; they have already cut off all temporary and casual staff,” she said. “At least they can give us a 1 percent pay raise.”
For others, Yale remains the sole source of financial stability. Marcus Williams, 28, who works as custodial staff for Yale’s physical plant, said he relies on his income to feed his two children. And like Williams, Richard Esposito, a Yale plumber, said he deeply values his job. During the 10-week union strike in 1984, Richard Esposito said he depended on savings and loans from family and friends to get by.
“I’ve been through long and painful strikes,” he said. “I’m glad that the University and the union have finally come to a consensus.”