When members of Yale’s two largest unions stand outside on picket lines this week, many workers will carry standard signs with the message “On Strike.”
They will also wear stickers that say “Again.”
As members of locals 34 and 35 prepare for the five-day job action that starts today, many long-time union members have said they are not surprised to be going on strike again. This week’s walkout represents the eighth job action in the last 11 rounds of negotiations.
Local 35 President Bob Proto, who will be participating in his sixth strike, said he first became involved with labor relations on campus as a child because his father was a member of Local 35.
“I couldn’t understand then why my father had to work two jobs,” Proto said.
Since then, Proto said, he has worked at the University for 29 years and dedicated himself to “keeping Yale honest.”
After 18 years at Yale, Local 34 member Andrea Kaiser said she believes the tensions between the University and the unions in these contract talks have escalated to the point where the dispute is “almost like a war.”
“I think the feelings [in this round of talks] are much stronger on both sides,” she said. “Union members are extremely frustrated.”
Local 35 member Glenn Green, a cook in the Branford College dining hall, said he has worked at Yale for 34 years and participated in five major strikes. He said he anticipated that this round of talks would result in a job action from the first day of bargaining.
“We usually prepare ourselves for a strike,” Green said.
He said many union members who have experienced multiple walkouts look for second jobs and save money during contract negotiation years.
Local 34 member Laura Reynolds said she initially felt reluctant about participating in the walkout because of the economic downturn — and because she’s only worked at Yale for three years, not having experienced a strike. She said she now believes the unions must take an action in order for the two sides to settle contracts.
“I technically can’t afford to walk but I can’t afford to sit here and not do anything,” she said.
Unlike Reynolds, Kaiser said the state of the economy actually led her to feel even more obligated to participate in the walkout.
“We can’t afford to accept a lousy offer,” she said. “We have to fight for more this time because the economy is bad.”
Some union members who have never been on strike said they are hesitant about striking for other reasons.
Local 35 member Henrietta Jenkins, who has worked at Yale for three years, said she believes that coming into work could be more difficult this week than standing out on a picket line. She said she plans to strike because she wants the University to offer better pensions to her co-workers who are planning to retire.
One Davenport College dining hall worker said he has only worked in the Davenport dining hall for one and a half years but that he already knows most of the undergraduates. He said he does not want to see their lives disrupted.
“We’re in a customer service field so we should be doing as much as we can for the students,” he said.
The University and the unions began negotiations last February with hopes of building a “new model” of labor relations. Leaders on both sides have said in recent months that they are discouraged.