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 at a press conference Tuesday. “An extraordinary achievement.”
The new three-year contracts will improve health benefits, increase job security and allow both unions to increase in number. And 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 history, riddled with union strikes and failed negotiations. But University administrators and union officials attributed this year’s early agreements — which were forged an unprecedented nine months early — 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 receive full pay and benefits and to work at the University as casual employees — employees who work short periods of time on an as-needed basis. Under their 2002 contract, Local 34 members could stay in the IEP from one to 18 months. The minimum duration for which members can stay on IEP will be extended to six months in the new contract, and the maximum will be extended to 22.5 months.
The new contract for Local 34 — which represents Yale’s clerical and technical staff — also 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 unionized jobs to be offered through 2010, at least 50 percent will be given to union members who were either recently laid off or are in the IEP. 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.
Like its 2002 contract, Local 34’s new contract does not include a no-layoff stipulation. 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.
At least 20 staff have already been notified, the News learned late last week. Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel said Tuesday that although operation budgets have not been finalized, he expects under 100 employees will be notified of layoffs University-wide.
HEALTH AND GROWTH
Several union members interviewed before and after the vote said they appreciated the contract’s improved health benefits, which will come into effect within three months.
Under the 2002 contracts, union members could choose one of two plans: the free Yale Health Plan or an “affordable” Aetna plan, Yale unions spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’05 said. He noted that about 70 percent of union workers are on the Yale Health Plan.
Having more union members use the Yale Health Plan would be more cost-efficient, Cobb said, so University and union officials worked to incentivize the plan with improved benefits. They eliminated a “fairly expensive” premium on dependents aged 19 to 25, improved coverage on various health-care areas (including chiropractic treatments and acupuncture) and removed an up-front deductible, Cobb said.
Now, as part of the 2010 agreement, all new union hires will be required to use YHP for their first three years. After the three years have passed, those workers will be given a choice between the Yale Health and Aetna plans.
In addition to having a revamped Yale Health Plan, union members will also receive a prescription plan that provides more affordable co-pays and no upper total pay limit for prescription coverage, Cobb said.
These health plan changes help to save costs and improve efficiency, University officials said Tuesday.
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 ensure 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 under the 2002 contract, it is given to employees with duties of “high skill, unusual skills or lead responsibilities.”)
The clarifications, Cobb said, may allow some lower-pay union workers to advance to higher pay grades. The move may also provide opportunities for lower-level managers, who are not unionized, to become unionized Local 34 staff members with a Labor Grade E position, Cobb added.
But the unions also agreed to concessions.
In exchange for improvements to Local 34 job security provisions, Cobb said, some changes to Local 34’s wage structure were 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.
Meanwhile, Local 35 members will receive a 2 percent raise the first year and a 3.25 percent raise for each year following that, an improvement over the 2 percent raises they received in recent years.
Cobb said raises for Local 34 were put in place because the wages for those positions are relatively 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.
Still, the altered wage structure caused some union members to vote against the contract.
Evelyn Wilson, a senior administrative assistant at the Yale Medical School who has worked for Yale for over 20 years, said she did not vote for the “unfair” contract.
“The … wage freeze tells me that I am worth nothing,” she said.
But Local 34 Vice President Antonio Lopes, an autopsy technician in the Pathology department, said that to him, the benefits outweigh the wage
Nonetheless, the altered wage structure is not the only concession Local 34 members ratified.
Instead of six days of recess time given to current Local 34 members, Cobb said, new hires will receive “floating holidays” — time off that may be scheduled by the University. The new hires also will not receive the four days of personal time given to current members, but they will be able to accrue more sick days, he said.
New hires will also have a different system for accruing vacation time than current members. They will receive fewer, total vacation days for the first four years they work at the University, Cobb said, but the number of vacation days they receive will eventually even out to current levels after that period.
A CHANGED RELATIONSHIP
In his first public remarks on the tentative union contract agreement and tonight’s ratification votes by Locals 34 and 35, Levin called Tuesday “historic” for the University.
“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 UNITE HERE President of Hospitality Industry John Wilhelm ’67, praised the agreement.
Levin said in an interview Tuesday night that he approached union leaders about negotiating an early contract shortly after the signing of the 2002 contract. The early negotiations strategy was an approach Levin had tried to use for the 2002 contract, but the negotiations, which lasted until September 2003, “just broke down,” he said.
University administrators and union officials started negotiating for the 2010 contract agreement in August 2007. They forged and announced the agreement, which will expire on Jan. 14, 2013, this month.
“On some sense, we lost the battle in 2002-’03,” Levin said. “But we won the war. And I mean both sides won the war.”
Carmen Lu, Paul Needham and Snigdha Sur contributed reporting.