With bargaining set to resume next week following a weeklong strike, union leaders said they are optimistic that the walkout will motivate University leaders to recognize their demands. But University leaders said the strike will not have a significant effect toward settling contracts and demonstrated little more than a weakened level of union support.
For the past week, union members have held scattered picket lines and rallies. While union leaders said the strike proved successful, University leaders said campus activities remained relatively normal throughout the strike. Both sides used their differing evaluations of the strike to offer different predictions for the walkout’s impact on contract negotiations.
Levin said he hopes the union membership’s “lack of enthusiasm” will convince union leaders that it is time to settle contracts.
“What clearly has been demonstrated was that there’s minimal support,” Levin said.
He said striking hospital workers, who are members of the Service Employees International Union District 1199, made no attempt to bring out the 1,700 hospital workers they hope to unionize. Levin said preliminary reports also indicated that not many graduate students participated in the walkout, even in departments like History, which has many GESO members.
But Local 35 President Bob Proto said he believes that the “amazing turnout” on picket lines demonstrated the commitment union members have to reaching an agreement on their contracts. He said he hopes the strike will persuade University leaders who have not been present at the bargaining table to participate in daily sessions starting next week.
“I’m hoping it’s different to the point where Rick Levin or [Vice President for Finance and Administration Robert] Culver or someone with decision-making ability comes to the table,” Proto said. “Anything less than having a key decision-maker as part of the negotiation process would be a great disappointment.”
The University and unions have been negotiating contracts for members of locals 34 and 35 — which represent nearly 4,000 clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers — since last February. Talks have stalled in recent months, as the two sides have disputed economic terms of the contracts as well as the issues that have prolonged the dispute in this round of talks. Though the strike is scheduled to end today, union leaders said they may decide over spring break to resume the walkout when students return March 24.
Levin said he believes union leaders have concentrated their efforts on unionizing GESO and the hospital workers and must turn their attention back to contracts for locals 34 and 35 for negotiations to progress.
“I think the ball’s entirely in the unions’ court, as it has been since June,” Levin said.
Levin said the national media attention the strike garnered will not affect the administration’s positions on key issues in the labor dispute.
But Proto said he thinks the unions’ solidarity with GESO and the hospital workers has made a statement to the University. He said he believes the Yale administration has shown their lack of respect for all of the groups that walked out this week.
“If they have no respect for their own teachers, how do you think a custodian, secretary or an electrician feels?” Proto said. “They definitely act more like corporate America than a liberal institution.”
University and union negotiators will hold three bargaining sessions next week. Proto said the two sides will discuss what issues to bring to the table over the phone on Monday.