Union leaders cast doubts on the progress of negotiations in a statement yesterday, criticizing what they called a “mixed picture” of small successes coupled with disturbing trends in the University’s approach to bargaining.
In the statement, leaders from locals 34 and 35, which represent Yale’s clerical, technical, dining hall, service and maintenance workers, expressed their concern over the lack of progress in negotiations. Union leaders also voiced frustration with what they called an unwillingness on the part of the University to agree to any changes that require spending money.
“It is not clear that the University wants to do more than make some general agreements to cooperate more in the future,” the statement said. “While cooperation is critical to our future, negotiations also have to make concrete progress on the specific and important issues that impact our everyday work life.”
The unions’ statement comes as Yale and union negotiators continue discussions on two of the most contentious issues expected to be raised during bargaining, and nearly six months into the efforts of both sides to achieve a peaceful resolution in the historically difficult contract renewal process.
During bargaining Monday, negotiators focused on the use of casual and temporary workers in jobs that might otherwise go to Local 34 members, union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said. Monday’s bargaining followed two weeks of discussions on job security in Local 35, which centered on subcontracting and ended temporarily last Wednesday with no resolution.
Last month’s job security discussions followed an earlier offer from University negotiators that could potentially assuage a major union concern over subcontracting. In the proposed agreement, the University would agree to give Local 35 all work in new buildings in exchange for certain agreed-to standards of job performance.
No resolution has been reached on the initial subcontracting offer, and Local 35 job growth discussions will continue next week, Chernoff said.
In the statement released Monday, union leaders cited concerns that “key University decision-makers” had not participated in most discussions, and described dissatisfaction over discussions on parking, in which union leaders said University negotiators agreed only to “theoretical points” but would not agree to anything that required financial expenditures.
“Really the question is, are we only going to study issues or are we going to make some real changes,” Chernoff said. “Some of those [changes] may involve investment of more money on the University side.”
But Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said negotiators were making progress on contracts and continuing in a positive tone.
“We’re working really closely with them to get the best contracts for all employees in the most speedy manner possible, but interest-based bargaining takes time,” Klasky said.
John Stepp, the labor-management consultant who has been leading bargaining sessions in the new interest-based process, declined to comment, but said he thought the tone of negotiations had been “good.”
In the statement, union leaders likened themselves to “television commentators asked to predict election results before the polls have closed,” noting that they did not have enough information to make judgments yet. But Chernoff said the union growth discussions in the coming weeks will be critical for the future of the negotiation process.
“The next few weeks, because of the nature of things we are talking about, will be important in dictating what kind of agreement will be reached,” Chernoff said.
Klasky said she thought the job security discussions had been going well despite the delicate nature of the issues.
“I think that the people feel the tone is still positive,” Klasky said. “These are issues that I think are very near and dear to everyone, so perhaps people are a little more sensitive to them. The University has very generous union security plans and will keep those in place, and I think they have a very generous growth plan and are working with the unions on how to best continue that.”
The University’s subcontracting offer represents a change in the administration’s statements on subcontracting, one of the major issues of contention between Yale and its unions since the last contracts were signed in 1996.
The 1996 contracts, which expired in January but have been extended each month throughout negotiations, gave the University the right to subcontract all work. Though University officials stressed that they have used subcontracting sparingly during the last six years, union leaders have repeatedly said subcontracting represents an issue of respect for unions by the University, key to labor-management relations.
Because the subcontracting provisions of the Local 35 contract do not expire until 2006, they are not subject to mandatory bargaining. University leaders had indicated that they did not want to negotiate on subcontracting before negotiations began in February and University negotiators made their subcontracting offer.
Chernoff said it was too difficult to determine how the University’s offer had affected the discussions on Local 35 job security, and said any proposed ideas could only be evaluated in proper context after discussions were finished.