The three-month pre-negotiation courtship between Yale and its unions will enter its final phase today, when negotiating teams from both sides begin training with a hired consultant.
The consultant will teach a bargaining technique to the negotiating teams from both sides. Formal negotiations between Yale and locals 34 and 35 will begin next week.
The two days of training will be followed by an evaluation of the technique on Wednesday, when leaders will determine what method they will use for bargaining.
The negotiations will bring an end to what has been a protracted pre-negotiation period, and begin another round of the historically acrimonious contract renewal process.
Seven of the last 10 negotiations between Yale and its unions, which now represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, dining hall and maintenance workers, have led to strikes. Last fall, with contracts set to expire this winter, leaders from both sides decided to forego the traditional process in the hopes of mending the relationship.
In November, Yale and the unions agreed to hire a labor-management consultant to evaluate the relationship and suggest solutions. The consultant, John Stepp of the Washington, D.C.-based firm Restructuring Associates Inc., released a report last month that was highly critical of both sides in what it called a “dysfunctional” labor-management relationship.
The interest-based training marks the next step in the RAI process. Described by Stepp as similar to a marriage, the consultant said interest-based bargaining could make the tone of negotiations friendlier.
But leaders from both sides have acknowledged that they may not adopt the process, and some have characterized the training as experimental.
“It is an experiment, but an experiment we’re all going into wanting it to work in some way,” Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said. “Nobody knows what to expect, but I think it’s a great sign that everybody is willing to go for it anyways.”
Bob Proto, president of Local 35, said training sessions would be necessary before either side determined whether to use the interest-based method. He added that he hoped both sides would follow Stepp’s recommendations and stay committed to being open-minded and honest.
“We’re going to have a lot of bright people in the room and if we’re open minded and our heads all stay cool we’ll be able to work something out that will make Yale a better place,” Proto said.
Although the consultant talked with 120 people in order to prepare his report, only representatives from both sides’ negotiating teams will be in training sessions.
The bargaining teams themselves also represent a change to the process. While in the past bargaining teams sometimes consisted of 30 or more people, the unions and Yale agreed to limit the size of teams this year.
“The University and the unions agreed that we didn’t want to have a circus atmosphere, so we tried to pare down the amount of folks involved,” Proto said.
Proto said the union bargaining teams would consist of 12 members from Local 34 and 12 from Local 35. University officials also reduced the size of their bargaining team.
The one other person at this week’s sessions will be John Wilhelm ’67, president of local 34 and 35’s parent union, the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International.
Wilhelm will spend the week in New Haven and will deliver the Democracy, Security and Justice speech Sunday night in Battell Chapel. Proto said Wilhelm will not be a member of the bargaining team but would be a constant source of advice.