Approximately 500 union members gathered outside Yale President Richard Levin’s private home Wednesday to announce that they will cancel their March contracts, opening up the possibility of a strike.
Members of Yale’s two largest unions, locals 34 and 35, marched to Levin’s house on Everit Street to personally notify him of the decision not to extend their contracts. Many union members hinted at the strong possibility of a strike after the contracts officially expire March 1.
Yale and locals 34 and 35 have been negotiating new contracts for nearly 4,000 workers since last February. Negotiators on both sides have clashed in recent months over wages, benefits and other noneconomic issues. Workers have not received annual pay raises because contracts have not been settled.
Levin, who did not appear during the demonstration, said he was disappointed that the unions had chosen to cancel their contracts but remained hopeful that union negotiators would “continue to negotiate seriously to a conclusion.”
“We believe Yale’s workers deserve a raise and deserve it soon,” he said.
For the last year, contracts for the two unions have been renewed on a monthly basis. They are extended automatically unless either side opts to cancel them 15 days before the end of the month. The contracts contain “no strike, no lockout” clauses that prohibit job actions while the contracts are in effect.
The two sides have scheduled bargaining sessions through the end of February. The unions’ letter to Levin stated that despite the cancellation of contracts, union negotiators would continue to come to the bargaining table.
The University and its unions have a historically contentious relationship, with seven of the last 10 negotiations resulting in strikes. Union members overwhelmingly voted to authorize union leaders to call job actions during votes Sept. 4. Leaders had originally planned a three-day strike for last fall but have not held any job actions to date.
Locals 34 and 35 represent Yale’s clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers.
After marching to Levin’s home from the corner of Cold Spring and Livingston streets, union members huddled in the street to listen to remarks by union leaders and supporters.
The Rev. Scott Marks, a community leader involved with the unions, opened the series of speeches with a prayer.
“We stand together tonight for justice,” he said. “We pray that [Yale leaders] are willing to come back to the table for a better way.”
Local 34 President Laura Smith said union negotiators began bargaining last February with “high hopes” about Levin’s promise of a partnership but were disappointed by Yale’s refusal to meet union demands.
“We want a better way here, President Levin, and we thought you did too,” she said. “Make no mistake — with or without your help, President Levin, we will bring that better way to Yale, and we will achieve all our contract goals.”
Local 35 President Bob Proto said the University has a history of a “cycle of strikes” that the unions had wanted to end. But, he said, locals 34 and 35 are strong enough to endure another “test of strength.”
“We fought in the streets for everything we’ve got, and it’s sad that Yale may force us there again. But we are not afraid,” he said.
The Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93, who has close ties with the University’s unions, alluded to the possibility of a job action on March 3 and promised that union members will have a “victory.”
“All I can say is, ‘Let’s get ready to rumble,'” he said.
At the end of the speeches, Smith and Proto walked up to Levin’s doorstep to officially deliver their letter informing him of their decision not to renew contracts. After knocking on the door and receiving no response, the union presidents stepped back down amid union members cheering, “We will be back.”
The decision to gather outside Levin’s home was the latest in a string of union attempts to appeal to Levin directly. Last fall, union supporters in four different cities leafleted outside receptions that featured talks by Levin. Union members have also sported masks depicting double-faced images of Levin at recent rallies.
Local 34 member Gale Iannone said that she came to Levin’s private residence because she believed Yale has disrupted the personal lives of many union members by failing to settle contracts.
“We’re doing the same thing to him,” Iannone said. “We’re out here to show him how it feels.”
Many union members wore red scarves at the demonstration as a symbol of their willingness to go on strike to achieve fair contracts.
Local 35 member John Martin, who has been working at Yale for 20 years, said that he has experienced a number of strikes and would “definitely” be willing to participate in another job action next month.
“It’s our time to reap what we have sowed,” he said. “We want a partnership — that’s what it’s all about.”
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