As locals 34 and 35 prepare to strike, one can only reflect on their detriment to the Yale community.
Yale is a premier academic institution whose energy and resources should be devoted to researching, discovering, and educating. Spending time and money that could be used to intellectually enrich students on trying to appease unions fits nowhere in Yale’s purpose. One has to wonder, then, why they continue to wreak such havoc within the University — why despite President Levin’s realization in his Aug. 29 letter to the Yale community that “unions’ leaders are more interested in preparing for confrontation during the academic year than in discussing and resolving the contract issues that remain open,” he still seeks to work “around the clock” to make the unions happy.
If there existed an obvious answer to this question, the whole sordid mess would be much easier to understand. But unfortunately no answer exists — there is no justification for Yale’s cooperation with unions, because both Yale and her employees would be better off without them.
From Yale’s perspective, the University would be more competitive in the absence of locals 34 and 35 (and GESO, and 1199, etc.). Yale is the largest employer in the city, pays much more for the same labor that costs other institutions much less, and provides incredibly generous benefits — free health coverage for employees and their families, $25,000 towards buying a home in New Haven, $11,000 per child per year in college scholarships for employees’ offspring, and up to 52 days’ worth of paid time off. How many janitors or restaurant dishwashers get all these as job perks? Yet if they belong to Local 35, Yale’s janitors and dishwashers do.
In any other universe, most unionized employees at Yale would be thrilled to even have jobs, let alone employment that rewards them with such excessive generosity. Regardless, union bullying has already cornered Yale into offering a 22% pay increase for Local 35 employees and a 42% pay increase for members of Local 34, despite the fact that a raise in wages has not been nor will be matched by a corresponding improvement in work and services.
Even with such magnanimous overtures, is the University greeted with gratitude by the employees it keeps off of welfare? Hardly — instead it must contend with nastiness, ingratitude, ineptitude and complete disorder and disruption as unions harass students and order work stoppages. Any other company in Yale’s situation would realize that something in the mix was drastically wrong, that such circumstances make for bad business and that it would be best to search for better, more competent labor elsewhere. One really has to wonder why Yale doesn’t do just that.
One also has to wonder about Yale’s unions and their leaders — people like Bob Proto and Laura Smith. These figures — not Yale — have really stripped workers of their voice and dignity as individuals; the whole purpose of a union is to gather employees to try and gain influence as a mob. Naturally, dissent among employees reduces that influence, so workers are harassed, bombarded with propaganda and strong-armed into submission by union leaders and agitators. (Doubtful? Just look at GESO.) This is often why certain jobs — like those at Yale — require union membership; heaven forbid a rogue voice should prove that laborers can be quite content without the “help” of the union.
And by letting themselves be represented by figures like Proto and Smith, laborers are associated with people openly antagonistic and nasty to the University — perhaps some workers are happy with their jobs and only want to do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wages (and to not be robbed of those wages by mandatory union dues). Indeed, what unions fail to realize is that on the job, dignity and the increased remuneration it brings can only be gained through excellence and pride in one’s work. If unions gave their members the freedom to go about their jobs happily, to think of the University , themselves and their employment in a positive light, workers would be stunned to see how much more respect they would gain — far more than union bullying and thuggery ever can.
Here’s the bottom line: neither Yale nor Yale’s workers benefit from union interference. Yale is forced into bad business decisions on the one hand and distracted from its true purpose on the other. Laborers are coerced into bad behavior and poor work habits, and are stripped of their individual voices and self-respect in the bargain. The only people who benefit from this tension are the unions and their leaders — which is why they need to go.
President Levin has made a belatedly correct observation about the confrontational, self-interested character of unions in realizing that they serve not workers, but themselves. If he is truly committed to solving the labor dispute and acting in the University’s (and workers’) best interests, then his required course of action is clear.
Levin should stop wasting time, money and energy on union negotiations immediately, and should instead devote those resources to eliminating unions from the Yale community. The process would be a complex one; union workers currently dominate Yale labor and would be impossible to replace completely overnight. By necessity, the path to replacement would be a gradual one. But while union labor may still be required for now, to say that this must forever be the case is hogwash.
The unions will strike soon, as they have in the past, but Yale will find alternatives and continue along in its mission as it has during previous labor stoppages, showing that the unions are not as indispensable as they may think. Try as they might, the unions cannot break Yale — but it’s about time Yale adopted some Reagan-esque zeal in breaking the unions. Everyone — the University, the workers and the community — would be far better off if it did.
Meghan Clyne is a senior in Branford College.