The Rev. Boise Kimber, president of the Greater New Haven Clergy Association, has angered a number area ministers with recent public criticism of the leaders of Yale’s unions.
In a letter to the New Haven Register Saturday, Kimber said it is “unfair” that leaders of the University’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, are trying to link contracts for union members to the unionizing drives of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization and workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital. Attempting to distance themselves from these statements, 24 city ministers issued a response to Kimber’s letter, pledging support for Yale’s unions and urging Yale President Richard Levin to fulfill his promise to create a new model of labor management partnership.
The clergy disagreement comes as Yale and locals 34 and 35 continue negotiations for new contracts for union members. Union leaders will announce today whether they will cancel the contracts for next month, a move that would allow the unions to hold strikes or other job actions. Union leaders will also march to Levin’s house late this afternoon. On Monday, Local 35 President Bob Proto said he would recommend canceling contracts.
The dispute also follows a split last summer between Kimber and several clergy members with strong union ties. In July, several city ministers formed the New Haven Interfaith Ministerial Alliance, or IMA, as an alternative to Kimber’s Greater New Haven Clergy Association. At the time, IMA leaders said the new group would focus on social justice issues, including the “social contract” between Yale and New Haven advocated by union leaders.
Kimber said in his statement Saturday that the unions’ focus on the organizing efforts of GESO and Yale-New Haven Hospital workers is “preventing a resolution” to the negotiations. He said he hopes the two sides can turn their attention to settling contracts for the two recognized unions at the bargaining table.
“Let’s negotiate fair — deal with the real issues,” Kimber said.
Kimber said many people in the Yale and New Haven community have offered their support for his statement.
“I’ve had a lot of positive responses to the statement from members of the community, clergy, politicians and even from union members,” Kimber said. “They agree to the fact that these negotiations need to come to an end.”
But the Rev. Edwin Edmonds, an IMA founder who signed the response to Kimber’s statement, said he thinks Kimber has become a “lackey to Yale.” He said no one had voted on Kimber’s letter, prompting the other clergymen’s response.
“We said he couldn’t lead us if he betrayed us,” Edmonds said.
The Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93, IMA co-president, said the response was intended to urge Yale to pursue a better relationship with locals 34 and 35 rather than to oppose Kimber’s statement.
“It’s really just trying to stop this tension,” said Lee, who signed onto the response to Kimber’s letter, . “We need to find a better way to iron out our differences.”
He said that many of the clergy who signed the statement are IMA members.
Kimber said he had only intended to report the “facts” he had found from talking to Yale and union leaders.
“I think that everybody has a right to respond to any printed material they disagree with,” Kimber said. “But the facts still remain the facts.”
The contracts for locals 34 and 35 are renewed automatically unless one side opts to cancel them 15 days before the end of the month. The contracts are currently effective through March 1, and will continue through April unless either side cancels contracts by Thursday.
Locals 34 and 35 represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers.
Union members voted to authorize union leaders to call job actions during votes Sept. 4. If union leaders opt not to renew contracts through next month, union members can hold a strike or another job action after March 1.