One year after the Yale College Council quietly passed a resolution calling on the University to adopt a policy of neutrality toward graduate students and hospital workers attempting to unionize, an attempt by YCC members to repeal the resolution did not go so unnoticed.
Instead, with Yale and its two largest unions in the midst of contract negotiations, as well as a major drive by national union leadership to win neutrality for graduate students and hospital workers, the anti-neutrality resolution discussed by the YCC last night brought major efforts by union leaders to defeat it.
YCC President Vidhya Prabhakaran ’03 said he met with Local 34 President Laura Smith and Local 35 President Bob Proto at their request, adding that the union leaders argued strongly against the resolution.
“There’s been some intense lobbying on the part of the unions,” Prabhakaran said.
As YCC members prepared to debate the resolution, Prabhakaran said, leaders from locals 34 and 35, the two largest recognized unions at the University, warned YCC leaders that approving the resolution could undermine efforts by Yale and its unions to avoid the labor strife that has been traditional during negotiations.
Union leaders have repeatedly asked for the University to recognize the Graduate Employees and Students Organization through card-count neutrality, a process by which the University would agree to remain neutral about unionization, pressing neither for nor against it, and recognize a union if a majority of graduate students sign union cards. The University opposes graduate student unionization and card-count neutrality.
YCC Representative Matthew Robinson ’03, who wrote the resolution, said he received calls, e-mails and had meetings with Proto, Smith, organizers from Local 34, hospital workers trying to organize and student union activists. He referred to some of the discussions as “heated.”
“I haven’t gotten an e-mail from a concerned student in this entire week,” Robinson said. “However, that’s when instead of undergrads, GESO organizers, local 34 and 35 reps and [hospital worker] reps contacted me and began an intense lobbying campaign.”
With the amount of attention the resolution garnered, some YCC members who had supported previous resolutions advocating neutrality said they were reconsidering whether the YCC should take a stand on an issue pitting Yale against its powerful labor unions.
“We had no idea this was going to blow up so big,” Sam Asher ’04 said. “We’re in way over our heads here. I’ve been at the center of this, and I didn’t have any idea.”
Throughout the day before the meeting, rumors circulated among students about union leaders, television news and professors attending the meeting, creating an atmosphere unfamiliar to an undergraduate council accustomed to resolutions on student long distance phone service and Spring Fling.
“We’re talking about intimidation and lack of intimidation in making decisions,” Asher said before the meeting, referring to the expected atmosphere. “But that is going to be an intimidating environment.”
Union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said the outcome of the resolution was not very important to union leaders. She said union leaders had made efforts to talk to YCC members to ensure that they had the appropriate information to make their decisions.
“If people are going to make a decision it ought to be an informed decision,” Chernoff said. “We wanted to make sure all the relevant facts are part of that decision-making process.”
But with Yale and locals 34 and 35 attempting to foster a new era of better labor relations, union leaders said the YCC resolution, if adopted, could affect the new tone.
“Because we’re really working hard to try to resolve this with the University and to try to change our culture, my concern would be that that process would be a disaster for what we’re trying to attempt to do, because this is a significant time in our labor history to make some positive steps for change,” Proto said.
Dan Smokler ’01, an organizer for the union-affiliated Connecticut Center for a New Economy, said the resolution would be counterproductive to achieving labor peace on campus.
“If the resolution is intended to create labor peace, it will not,” Smokler said. “It’s a YCC resolution, and I think the question is what is the effect of the resolution? It’s very clear if we are looking for labor peace and we are looking for a fair way to bring together the union and University then this resolution is not the way.”
Asher said that over the last two weeks he has reconsidered his views on the YCC’s role in labor, and came to the conclusion that it should be limited to advocating ways to avoid labor disputes, rather than prescribing a method for settling the unionization issue.
“The issue here is how as the YCC, how do we stick up for the best interest of undergrads first and foremost, and that’s to minimize labor strife.” Asher said. “This resolution I’m afraid could very well polarize the issues and maximize labor strife.”