Federal and state officials, in a letter earlier this month, called on Yale President Richard Levin to exercise “bold leadership” in settling the University’s disputes with its unions and expressed their support for organization drives by graduate students and Yale-New Haven Hospital workers.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro released a letter earlier this week that she, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and four state legislators presented to Levin at a private meeting on Feb. 7. In the letter, the officials offered assistance in the negotiations while stating their concern over the labor dispute.
“Given the broad public interest, elected officials and community leaders have come to expect the most of Yale, including recognition of the right of graduate teaching assistants and hospital workers to have a union,” the officials wrote. “We especially urge you to discuss a voluntary agreement that will bring about a fair process for Yale workers who are organizing.”
Yale is currently negotiating with locals 34 and 35, who cancelled their contracts for next month Feb. 12. Yale and the unions are particularly divided over organization for the workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization.
The officials repeatedly emphasized the level of financial support the University receives from the state and federal governments. In particular, the letter cited the tax-exempt status of Yale and its teaching hospital, as well as the millions of dollars the University receives in federal grants and contracts.
“Yale is a large and well-endowed non-profit institution that by its very nature is accountable to constituents in our districts who pay taxes to compensate for revenue lost by the city of New Haven,” the officials wrote.
In addition to DeLauro and Blumenthal, state Sen. Martin Looney, and state Reps. Toni Walker, Cameron Staples, and Christopher Donovan attended the meeting with Levin. The letter was also signed by Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz, State Treasurer Denise Nappier, State Comptroller Nancy Wyman and 44 members of the Connecticut General Assembly.
Donovan said he was disappointed with Levin’s response to the concerns.
“I didn’t think it went anywhere,” Donovan said. “I really didn’t feel like we were listened to. I feel his mind was made up.”
Donovan said he was considering other ways of resolving the labor struggle, including drafting legislation in the General Assembly.
Looney, who called the meeting with Levin “cordial,” said the officials hoped to reaffirm their concern about the status of a negotiating process that affects many of their constituents.
“It would be better if negotiations at Yale would be less tense and more harmonious,” Looney said. “It seems like every time there is a contract negotiation at Yale it ends up convulsing the whole community.”
Looney said Levin reiterated his positions on the unionization of graduate students and medical school employees. Levin was unavailable for comment Wednesday night.
While a spokeswoman in Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s office said the Democratic senator had not been asked to sign the letter to Levin, Lieberman and Sen. Christopher Dodd expressed support for the Yale unions in a separate letter issued to the community on Jan. 30.
“We encourage the 3,500 employees at Yale and Yale New Haven Hospital to continue their valiant efforts to organize and negotiate a fair labor contract,” Lieberman and Dodd wrote in the letter. “Locals 34 and 35 have been strong advocates on behalf [of] its membership on the critically important issues of better pensions, training, education, and fair wages so that employees can balance work and family obligations.”
The letter, which was distributed at a meeting of Elm City Congregations Organized, also asked Yale to continue working with community leaders and organized labor to reach a resolution. In a written statement, spokesman Marvin Fast said Dodd hoped the University and its employees could find “common ground” in the near future.
“The clerical and mechanical employees have been working under contract terms that expired over a year ago and they have every reason to hope and expect that they might secure new contract terms with the University,” Fast said.