Nearly two months into this year’s unusually tame labor negotiations, Yale and its two largest recognized unions, locals 34 and 35, have begun tackling the controversial issue of union growth. This discussion, which will eventually address the fate of the unionization efforts of graduate students and hospital workers, will be neither quick nor easy, as both sides seem rigidly committed to ideologically opposed positions.
With the dialogue between Yale and its unions now reaching its most difficult stage, the seriousness of both sides’ much-publicized intentions to avoid a prolonged conflict will be tested. One hopes that the incremental successes of recent weeks will provide the momentum needed for the final stretch ahead. If the overall progress made so far has been more than a mere series of meaningless platitudes, a mutually beneficial conclusion could be at the end of this long and complicated road.
Several positive signs have been heartening. The lack of public squabbles thus far is unique in Yale labor relations history. Yale-bashing by union leaders and union-ridiculing by the administration has been kept to a pleasant minimum.
And despite the fact that the previous contract expired in January, monthly renewals have been made without threats. There are still no imminent signs of a prolonged strike — something the University community can be thankful for as the end of the academic year nears.
This is not to say that there haven’t been hints of looming tension. The continued presence of John Wilhelm ’67, the president of the international union to which locals 34 and 35 belong, at negotiation sessions is distracting, if not necessarily harmful. If broader national union issues obscure the already complex Yale-labor relationship, a timely settlement to negotiations could be unlikely.
Finally, there is the union growth issue, which made its way onto the negotiating table this week. The scene at the Graduate Student Assembly town hall meeting about graduate student unionization in late February was not encouraging: students hissed at administrators and professors who allegedly dodged student questions.
But despite these complications, a historic breakthrough between Yale and its unions certainly remains attainable. In the coming weeks, the right combination of level-headedness, persistence and luck could bring a victory for all sides. A reversion to the toxic mix of stonewalling and irrational expectations will achieve just the opposite.