As negotiations between Yale and its unions started this month, a group of student organizations is working to educate the student body about the history of labor negotiations and the potential impact of this year’s discussions.

A panel discussion held yesterday night in the Pierson College dining hall was one of a series of six panels offered by United Students at Yale, and co-sponsored by the Student Labor Action Coalition and the Yale College Council.

Members of Yale’s two recognized unions, locals 34 and 35, are slated to speak at the panels, as well as representatives from the Graduate Employees and Students Organization and District 1199, which is attempting to organize workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Locals 34 and 35, which represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, maintenance and service workers, are currently in contract negotiations with Yale. GESO and District 1199 are seeking to form unions, but Yale opposes the organization of both.

Although Yale was also invited to participate in the panels, administrators declined to send representatives. At the beginning of yesterday’s meeting, USAY member and Pierson panel coordinator Maggie Whelan ’02 read a statement explaining the administration’s position.

“We don’t believe that this process is enhanced by public debates between management and labor while we are doing our best to work out our differences at the bargaining table,” the statement said.

Abby Krasner ’03, a member of USAY’s coordinating committee, said she believed that despite the absence of a Yale administrative perspective from the panels, students can still get a balanced view of labor relations.

“We all know the administration’s stance. — It’s very rare that we get to hear voices of the unions,” she said.

Whelan said the main purpose of the panels is to educate students. She said a poll conducted at a recent Pierson College Council meeting indicated that students know little about labor issues at Yale.

She said each of the six panels will have a different focus and will include different spokesmen from each of the labor groups.

The Pierson panel featured Mary Ann Colonna, a steward on the executive board of Local 34, and Michael Mullins GRD ’05, who is on GESO’s coordinating committee.

Colonna said that while the unions and Yale are attempting to “build a new era of cooperation,” she remains cautious.

She said that when she hears about union members being harassed for their association with a union, she is wary of whether Yale really plans to try to change the tone of labor relations.

“[It] makes me skeptical of the administration at Yale.” she said. “To me, a partner is someone who is equal, and I don’t feel that here.”

Mullins discussed how the movement to unionize has gained ground in the graduate student community in the last 14 months. He said nearly 50 percent of Yale graduate students have joined GESO during this time.

“We’re poised to be bigger than we’ve ever been,” he said.

He added that GESO is hoping to secure child-care and health-care benefits for dependents, and is seeking the creation of English as a Second Language programs for students.

Yael Kalban ’05 said she hoped to learn more about the negotiations in case the unions go on strike.

“I want to be aware of potential consequences and what we can do if anything happens,” she said.

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