Union questions Yale tactics

A rocky 18 months of negotiations preceded the final ratification of a new six-year contract between the University and the Yale Police Department’s union on Oct. 26.

The University adopted “hard bargaining and high pressure tactics designed to force settlement” when negotiating with the union — the Yale Police Benevolent Association (YPBA) — alleged Rich Simons, its president, in a November statement to the News. When asked to explain Simons’ comments last month, YPBA vice president Elias Roman offered several examples of what he called “hardball, condescending and bullying tactics” employed by University negotiators. But University spokesman Tom Conroy said the YPBA ratified an “excellent contract” without the need for outside assistance or interruption in department operations, indicating that the negotiation process was successful.

The drawn-out negotiations suggest that Yale has not overcome its longstanding labor difficulties with its police department. The most recent negotiation process, which Conroy said involved over 60 bargaining sessions, culminated in a contract that will last until June 2016. The agreement includes annual across-the-board wage increases from 2 to 3 percent, he said, as well as wage adjustments and stipends based on years of service, grade and special duty assignments.

This contract did not come without acrimony during the negotiating process, according to YPBA representatives.

According to a December email from Roman, Andrea Terrillion, Yale’s chief negotiator, issued an ultimatum to the union at a bargaining session on Aug. 19 — it must either accept Yale’s current offer, or the University would “retool [their] economic offer to reflect the realities of today’s economy.”

Roman added that before the University delivered this ultimatium, Yale’s senior director of compensation and benefits, Hugh Penny, provided YPBA leadership with an “unsolicited presentation” on the costs of the Aetna Health Plan, the health plan that covers the union’s members. The implication of this presentation, according to Roman, was that Yale might decrease union members’ health care benefits if the YPBA did not accept the University’s offer.

The University later threatened to walk away from a deal if the YPBA leadership did not deliver to rank-and-file an “enthusiastic endorsement” for the tentative agreement when it was reached, said Roman.

When contacted about the YPBA’s allegations, Conroy did not specifically comment on the University’s negotiating tactics, stressing instead the positive outcome.

“It cannot be too strongly underscored that the Yale police officers overwhelmingly ratified an excellent contract with a highly competitive compensation structure that compares excellently to the market, both regionally and among university police departments,” he said in a Jan. 10 email.

Relations between the administrators and the YPBA appear likely to remain tense. Although the current contract does not expire until the end of June 2016, Roman said the YPBA may adopt a firmer bargaining stance in future contract negotiations in response to the “hard bargaining posture” that the University has adopted. While Roman did not offer details, he warned that the union might be forced into actions that could “[endanger] the Yale community.”

“The [YPBA] leadership has always believed a strike must be an absolute last resort,” he said. “If our members were to strike, the lack of police coverage could well result in harm to membes of the Yale community, especially its students. That is something we want to avoid at all costs.”

Conroy said that strikes represent the failure of the collective bargaining process. If one were to occur, he added, it would be “painful process,” potentially damaging the relationship between the University and the union for years to come and causing economic harm to both parties.

While Roman said the University’s negotiations with unions are often contentious, Yale’s bargaining with Unite Here Locals 34 and 35 — the unions that represent Yale’s clerical and technical staff — has produced new contracts nine months prior to the expiration of former contracts.

The University’s most recent agreement with Locals 34 and 35, a three-year extension to a previous contract that will run through Jan. 2013, was the first reached without a strike in 21 years, according to the New Haven Register. The last time members of Locals 34 and 35 went on strike was in 2003, and the strike lasted for three weeks. Also in 2003, the YPBA threatened to strike after its negotiations with Yale lasted over 14 months.

Negotiations for the University’s next contract with Locals 34 and 35 have already begun, Conroy said, as part of a deal that discussions on successor agreements must start a minimum of 12 months prior to the expiry of existing contracts.

The union representing Yale Security reached its first contract agreement with the University in November, following over a year of negotiations.

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