Negotiators for Yale and its two largest unions reached their first tentative agreements yesterday on what they called “small issues,” marking the first tangible result of a new method of bargaining.
Bargaining team members from the University and Local 34, which represents about 2,800 clerical and technical workers, agreed tentatively to changes in the language of contract provisions on leaves of absence. They also agreed to convert Local 34 jobs to a weekly payroll when the University has the technological capacity to do so, union leaders said.
Working in a separate room, other University negotiators and members of Local 35, which represents nearly 1,100 dining hall, service and maintenance workers, agreed tentatively to changes in grievance procedures and notification policies for illnesses and injuries.
The agreements, which are considered tentative until final contracts are settled, were reached after the first two days of substantive bargaining using a new process and help from a labor-management consultant.
Union leaders said they chose to address relatively small issues specific to each union so they could get adjusted to the new process before addressing larger, more contentious issues.
“We dealt with small issues to get our feet wet,” Local 34 President Laura Smith said. “It became very clear that the process can work but really does involve a significant commitment on the part of all involved to make this mammoth change.”
Local 35 President Bob Proto said the new process was difficult but worth it.
“It’s a lot of hard work to solve problems as opposed to just agreeing to issues,” Proto said. “We’re moving slowly but moving forward.”
Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky declined to comment on specific issues.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to discuss specifics at this time,” Klasky said. “We are very pleased with the progress that’s being made.”
The two sides agreed to work with the consultant, John Stepp, in an attempt to improve the historically acrimonious relationship between Yale and its union. After meeting with more than 120 representatives from both sides, Stepp suggested the two sides seek a new method for negotiations, which have typically involved tensions and strikes. Leaders from both sides agreed to use the method Stepp suggested, called interest-based bargaining.
Unlike the traditional process, in which both sides come to negotiations with a list of pre-formulated proposals for the other to accept or reject, interest-based bargaining requires both sides to forego finalized proposals and instead enter negotiations with general interests they would like to see met in the negotiations. Both sides are then to work together to find mutually acceptable ways to address the issues.
Smith said the tentative agreements for Local 34 involve a language change for the leave of absence provision that makes it more in line with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. She added that the payroll change would likely occur “a bit off in the distance.”
Union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said the grievance changes were geared toward making grievance procedures more effective and efficient.