University and union negotiators will meet next Friday for the first full-table bargaining sessions since early October. Leaders announced that they will resume discussions of wages, benefits and several other noneconomic issues in the coming weeks.
The scheduled negotiation date comes after two months without bargaining, at the end of a semester that began with votes to authorize a strike. It also comes at the end of a year that began with hopes of avoiding the traditional tensions and public battles that have characterized labor relations at Yale.
Instead, the two sides will head into the Christmas holidays without new contracts for nearly 4,000 workers, and at the most contentious point since the last negotiations ended with last-minute intervention from the mayor in 1996.
“It’s a deep regret that I think we’ve accomplished virtually nothing this semester,” Yale President Richard Levin said.
Local 35 President Bob Proto said workers have gone from “hopeful to disappointed to angry” by the lack of progress and the reversion to old styles of labor relations. He said there may be strikes “on and off” during the next semester because union members are so angry.
“It looks as though Rick Levin would rather turn the campus into a battleground next semester,” Proto said. “The campus will more than likely be turned upside down — our people are battle-tested and we’ve been tested time and time again.”
Yale and its unions have had a historically contentious relationship, with seven of the last 10 contract negotiations resulting in strikes.
The University and its two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, have been negotiating new contracts since February. Contracts expired in January and have been renewed on a monthly basis since then. Workers have not received annual pay raises because contracts have not been settled.
Locals 34 and 35 represent the University’s technical, clerical, service and maintenance workers.
Yale leaders announced Oct. 3 that they would be bringing in Joseph Dubin, a federal mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Dubin will be present at next Friday’s session.
Dubin said negotiations on that day will focus on what issues to discuss in contract talks.
“Both parties are willing to meet and that’s always a good sign,” Dubin said. “It’s still open-ended as to what’s going to be accomplished that day.”
Director of labor relations and Yale chief negotiator Brian Tunney wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to Dubin that the unions “knew well [the University’s] positions on all issues” and would not need to convene in full-table sessions to discuss them. Local 34 negotiator and union attorney Michael Boyle responded to Tunney’s letter Tuesday and said that the unions were upset that Yale believes its positions are “set in stone.”
Levin said the University is willing to sit down and negotiate until Christmas but, he added, there is more to the problem than just scheduling bargaining sessions.
“The current union position on wages is very far from the economic realities of today,” Levin said.
The University and locals 34 and 35 have also clashed in recent months over issues unrelated to the terms of contracts. Union leaders have distributed leaflets on a number of occasions regarding issues such as pensions and free speech rights, which they believe Yale officials violated by failing to condemn the arrests of eight union supporters at Yale-New Haven hospital in September. University officials have maintained that the unions are focused on the organizing drives of workers at the hospital and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization.
Union leaders said they are frustrated by the University’s lack of commitment to its initial promise of forging a partnership between Yale and its unions.
Local 34 President Laura Smith said the unions remain committed not only to settling contracts but to fulfilling the goal of creating a partnership between the two sides.
“For our union, building a new relationship here is very, very important,” she said. “Our members do not want to have to go on strike every few years for a contract.”
Proto said he is especially “saddened” by this round of negotiations because of the fact that they once held great potential for developing better labor relations at Yale.
“[Levin] got our hopes up behind the scenes and publicly,” Proto said. He said he believed a “tell-tale sign” that Yale was not willing to uphold its promise for a partnership came after the departure of John Stepp, a consultant with the Washington, D.C.-based firm Restructuring Associates Inc. Stepp left before the two sides began addressing economic issues in June.
“The first indication was when they took a cavalier attitude towards [Stepp’s] recommendations,” he said.
Union members voted to authorize union leaders to call job actions, such as strikes, during votes Sept. 4. No actions or strikes are currently planned, union members said.