Negotiators from Yale and its two largest unions finished their first two days of substantive bargaining this week with progress on minor issues and cautious optimism about the future of a new process of bargaining.

Leaders from Yale and locals 34 and 35, which represent nearly 4,000 Yale workers, said the new interest-based bargaining process worked well for the small issues they addressed this week. But with other potentially divisive issues looming, the future of the interest-based approach — as well as the new tone of labor relations it was intended to foster — remains uncertain.

As part of the new negotiating process, leaders replaced the traditional demands with 26 “interests” to be addressed in bargaining.

Union and University leaders have scheduled interest-based bargaining through April, but do not plan to address issues of wages and benefits until afterward, union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said. Chernoff added that both sides were unsure whether they would use interest-based bargaining when they do address economic issues.

The interests negotiators will discuss using the new process in range from the straightforward — day care — to the complex: “How can we improve the quality of labor-management relations?”

But even one of the listed “interests” poses a potential stumbling block.

Interest number six refers to the unionizing efforts of graduate student teaching assistants and hospital workers trying to form recognized unions.

“How we can help the union grow for the long term — [and how can the current organizing efforts on campus be conducted consistent with this long term goal]*?” the interest reads.

The asterisk refers to an explanation further down the page: “The University said it was unwilling to discuss the bracketed part of this issue.”

What the University has been unwilling to discuss — and the unions have made a central part of their interests — are recognition for two groups trying to form unions: the Graduate Employees and Students Organization and workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Union leaders have continually linked the growth of the unionized work force — which would more than double if the two groups were recognized as unions — with job security. University leaders have repeatedly said that they do not believe graduate students are employees, and that they do not control Yale-New Haven Hospital and therefore cannot recognize the workers there.

Legally, the contracts between Yale and locals 34 and 35 could not be held up by disputes over GESO and District 1199 since the two groups are not directly related to terms and conditions of employment for the recognized unions. But with rhetoric from both sides advocating a new tone in labor relations, the organizing drives could take on extra importance.

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