When many of Yale’s 4,000 unionized workers begin a five-day strike this morning, it will be the next predictable step in a decades-long history of devastating labor relations and the culmination of another unfortunate round of stalled negotiations.
Contract talks have proven unproductive over the last 10 months, in large part because union leaders have chosen to fall back on the scars of historically bitter labor relations rather than pursue efficient and productive negotiations. While the University has not offered final satisfactory proposals on many issues, especially pensions, union leaders have not served as productive partners in negotiations. Instead, they have chosen to inflame the situation with negative publicity outside the bargaining table rather than serious negotiating.
Many union members have been conditioned by a long history to view strikes as a necessary means to achieve fair contracts from the University. In the last 35 years, union members have gone on strike seven times. That many workers will spend the week giving up paychecks in tenuous economic times is a testament both to how routine strikes have become for longtime Yale workers and to the lasting view among workers that the University will not make its final offer until union members have gone through the ordeal of a job action.
It is regrettable that union members are once again faced with the prospect of having to strike for better contracts. But for many months, union leaders have focused on little beyond driving the situation toward this week’s strike — a move that may strengthen resolve behind the union leaders while certainly causing financial difficulties for union members. Beyond the difficulties imposed on workers forced to choose between their paychecks and their usual method for securing better contracts, the strike is especially disappointing because the negotiations began with rhetoric of a new era in labor relations.
Negotiations began at a promising pace last winter. The two sides reached tentative agreements on job security and subcontracting — two of the major stumbling blocks in the previous negotiations. But as the school year ended, the two sides effectively ended their good-faith bargaining in favor of the more traditional patterns of public-relations battles and increasingly antagonistic relations.
University negotiators have made it clear that they have not made their final offers on wages and benefits and could improve the offers in future bargaining sessions. But the University has the weight of history against it in trying to offer good-faith contracts. Apart from generous salaries in a tumultuous economy, the University can show good intentions by improving its offer on pensions, one of the biggest concerns of union members — about 20 percent of whom will retire before the next contracts expire. But union leaders must come to the table with a mind to settle contracts, and bargain accordingly.
It is our hope that bargaining sessions scheduled for next week will benefit from the union’s cathartic strike and find University and union negotiators finally ready to settle contracts — a year late.