As union leaders bargain for new contracts, workers in locals 34 and 35 said they are hopeful, if not entirely well-informed, about this year’s negotiation process.
Union members, many of whom have worked at Yale through several contentious contract renewals, said they felt the tone was calmer this year and were optimistic about the process. But some also said they were not as well-informed about the process as in the past, and that they were unsure about how successful it would prove in the end.
While past negotiations have been divisive and frequently led to strikes, leaders from Yale and locals 34 and 35, which represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers, have tried to establish a new tone for labor-management relations. Leaders agreed to hire a consultant to help the negotiations, and both sides have said they are trying to avoid many of the public clashes that have characterized negotiations in the past.
Many workers said their major concerns related to long-term issues, especially subcontracting, which they said they feared would take away union jobs. Others said pensions, child care and training were important.
Marion Frasier, a dining hall worker in Commons, said most people want to be upwardly mobile.
“If you’re going to be here 25, 30 years, you don’t want to be washing dishes for 25, 30 years,” Frasier said.
Frasier added that union employees were a pool of resources Yale wasn’t tapping into adequately, and said he hoped the University would train more current workers rather than hire outside subcontracted workers.
Union members said there is a different tone than there was in 1996, the date of the last negotiations.
Bryan Baker, a Berkeley dining hall worker for 10 years, said that last time most workers expected to strike, but he said attitudes were different this time.
“We want this to be peaceful and smooth sailing,” Baker said.
Kenneth Jones Sr., assistant to the head of general services for Commons, said last year many employees were confused about what would happen during the renewal process but now the mood has settled.
“[The tone] seems to be mild now,” Jones said. “Now the tone is like going to class and learning. Everything is being done right at the table.”
Jones, who has worked at Yale for 21 years, said he believes the outcome will be better than in the past because of the new approach to bargaining.
Many union members said they were hopeful about the new tone, but some said they felt positive in part because they had not heard about much about what was being done at the table.
“This time, [the tone is] more laid-back, because nobody knows anything,” said Richard Davis, who works in catering at Commons. “No one’s really saying [anything].”
Davis added that he thought workers were being kept in the dark.
A Berkeley dining hall worker who did not wish to give her name said workers fought among themselves during past negotiations, but said this time no one seemed to know enough to disagree.
Some workers said they thought the consulting process would make the negotiations go smoothly. But others who remember past negotiations said they are skeptical about how the process will turn out.
Virginia Harris, a steward in Local 34, said many veteran workers she had talked to were skeptical of the new tone.
“There’s a desire to believe, but their first questions are ‘is it really true?’ ‘should we believe it?'” Harris said.
Davis said he thought the consultant was helping, but added that without results the new tone “might just be a bunch of talk.”
Baker said he was unsure if Yale wanted to change the tone of union-University relations permanently or if the talk about an improved tone was intended to avoid conflict for now.
“[Whatever Yale gives workers now is] a peanut they may throw us now to pacify us,” Baker said. “That’s nothing. They’re thinking about what they’re going to gain in the long term.”
But for now, many workers said they are hopeful there can be a change.
“[Yale] is tired of fighting,” Jones said. “It’s their birthday year so they figured they’d try to give everyone a little something.”