Toward the end of last year, Yale officials considered the possibility of a strike by the University’s two recognized unions when determining the order of major renovation projects, several administrators have confirmed.
Conversations among high-level officials included speculation about the labor situation because University planners were worried that a work stoppage by Locals 34 and 35 could cause a sympathy strike by construction workers renovating Timothy Dwight College during 2001-2002. If the scenario were to occur, delays could develop, leading to inferior student living arrangements similar to those experienced in the recent Branford College fiasco.
The discussions, held last October and November, make clear that Yale leaders are not entirely confident that a strike similar to the one that occurred in 1996 would not happen again after Jan. 20, 2002, when the current union contract for the University’s dining hall, clerical and technical workers expires.
Officials eventually decided in November to proceed as originally planned with the renovations to TD and Rosenfeld Hall rather than first overhauling Vanderbilt Hall, a smaller project, which would be less affected by a work stoppage. The arguments in favor of beginning Vanderbilt this May, including the union issue, were judged to be less significant than the support for moving ahead with the renovation of TD.
Yale President Richard Levin said the strike issue was “not a factor” in decision making.
“I’m not concerned about the strike issue,” Levin said.
He would not comment about whether Yale is requiring TD renovation subcontractors to promise in their contracts not to honor any Yale union’s strike.
Locals 34 and 35 are members of the Federation of Hospital and University Employees. Local 34 includes approximately 2,800 clerical and technical workers, while 1,100 service and maintenance employees fill Local 35’s ranks.
In 1996, successive four-week strikes temporarily crippled the University, and union rallies held during Commencement captured national media attention.
“We’ve taken our current contract, construction schedule and timing all into consideration,” said Kemel Dawkins, acting vice president of finance and administration. “We consider all of the possibilities that could affect the schedule and we were aware of the termination of the contracts.”
While acknowledging that the union issue had been mentioned once, Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer, denied in December that labor considerations affected renovation planning.
“We’re not making plans based on the possibility of a strike,” said Richard, who is currently overseas conducting anthropological research.
Administrators have been quick to say that they are “optimistic” about prospects for a calm contract renewal season.
“It’s a salient issue,” Richard said. “It’s in everyone’s interest that there aren’t any strikes.”
Union officials were somewhat taken aback, but not altogether surprised, upon learning of the discussion among Yale leaders.
“It’s not fair to the University to be in that mode,” Local 35 president Bob Proto said. “What’s fair to the workers and the University is if clearer minds prevailed.”
While the decision to go ahead with the TD renovation rather than Vanderbilt suggests that the administration is not overly worried about the labor situation, union officials are still concerned.
Proto expressed frustration that labor negotiation at Yale is a “trigger phrase” for potential controversy.
His counterpart at Local 34, Laura Smith, had similar feelings.
“I am certain that Yale considers all contingencies when they make these decisions,” Local 34 president Laura Smith said. “I think that it’s unfortunate that something like that even needs to be considered — it’s the goal of unions to work cooperatively and constructively with Yale.”
Proto also linked the well-being of Local 35 members to that of GESO members and District 1199 hospital workers, who are also members of FEHU, but are not recognized by Yale as a collective bargaining unit. The extent to which GESO issues and the plight of hospital employees who wish to unionize become further enmeshed with the Local 34 and 35 contract renewal process remains to be seen.