Leaders of locals 34 and 35 questioned the University’s commitment to working with the unions and raised doubts about the possibility of a peaceful resolution to contract negotiations after last week’s departure of the labor-management consultant hired to oversee bargaining.
After nearly three months of leading interest-based negotiations on contracts for nearly 4,000 Yale workers, consultant John Stepp concluded his involvement in negotiations Friday on terms the unions and the University disputed.
University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Stepp’s departure had been scheduled and agreed to by both sides prior to last week, since most of the non-economic issues had already been addressed.
Stepp said he did not view his departure as permanent, adding that he expected to remain on standby in case the parties needed his assistance in later stages of negotiations.
But union spokeswoman Deborah Chernoff said the farewells delivered to Stepp by Yale’s head negotiator, Brian Tunney, caught union leaders by surprise.
Chernoff added that union leaders feared the decision to stop using Stepp in bargaining could symbolize deeper problems ahead in the historically acrimonious relationship between Yale and its unions.
“We’ve had much more of a monologue than a dialogue on some of the important issues in negotiations,” Chernoff said. “Coupled with the fact of the University’s bidding farewell to Mr. Stepp on Friday without discussing it with us, and the finality of it, I think raises some troubling questions as to where we’re headed in negotiations.”
Yale officials declined to comment on specifics of negotiations, but Klasky said the University was committed to moving forward in discussions and achieving contracts in a peaceful manner.
Stepp characterized the disputed circumstances of his departure as a misunderstanding.
“It was a general misunderstanding,” Stepp said. “Never did I have any concerns about the possibility or likelihood of being asked back. To the extent that it got characterized as I was shown the door, it was not a view [that I shared].”
Stepp added that he believed any future mediation would be more effective if used only after it became needed during the economic negotiations, rather than from the outset.
Negotiators agreed this winter to adopt the interest-based bargaining process, in hopes of fostering a friendlier relationship between Yale and locals 34 and 35. The two locals represent Yale’s clerical, technical, service, dining hall and maintenance workers.
Stepp’s departure came after two key tentative settlements in subcontracting and job security, but without what union leaders called satisfactory progress or assurances from the University on several other issues.
The two sides have also not discussed economic issues. Leaders decided at the outset of bargaining to wait until the interest-based phase of negotiations concluded before addressing wages and benefits.
Negotiators are scheduled to begin discussing economic issues June 5.
The organizing drives of graduate students and hospital workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital have provided a background of conflict for the two sides, but have not been discussed at the bargaining table. Union leaders have said they want to address the unionizing drives of the two groups as part of the current negotiations, but University leaders have refused to discuss either group as part of negotiations.
Legally, the University is not required to discuss the organizing drives in negotiations, and unions could not strike or take other job actions over the issue unless other mandatory issues remain on the table as well.
Chernoff said the University’s refusal to address the organizing drives could undermine the peaceful process.
“We will not solve the unionization question without having some conversation about it, nor will we be able to achieve the kind of contract that our members are looking for and I think the kind of guarantees and civility on campus that I believe the administration is looking for without having real dialogue and talking to each other rather than at each other,” Chernoff said.
Though he said he could not predict how smoothly the economic bargaining would go, Stepp said he thought the process had proven successful so far.
“I think on most of the big non-economic items we’ve made major headway,” Stepp said. “I think those that are left we ultimately will resolve. All in all I’d give it high marks.”