Two weeks after an underwhelming union strike and 13 months into contract talks, Yale negotiators offered new contract proposals Monday with the intention of speeding up the long-stalled negotiations. Given the merits of the University’s economic proposals, the state of the nation’s economy, and the drawn-out nature of negotiations, we urge union leaders to accept the new contract offer.
The new plan, announced at negotiations and via e-mail to students, faculty and staff, contained small changes in economic proposals, but the major change was its length. Under the University’s plan, the contracts would last for 10 years, nearly triple the average contract length in recent history. If adopted, Yale President Richard Levin argued, the contracts would ensure nearly nine years in which the two sides could try to achieve better labor relations without the distraction of contract negotiations and job actions.
While the idea of a 10-year contract would provide time to mend the historically tempestuous relations between Yale and the unions, the length will likely meet its share of skepticism and warrants some caution. The contracts themselves offer strong job security guarantees that are appealing in a long agreement. Instead of beginning to prepare for the next round of negotiations shortly after one ends, the University and its unions might have time to work on improving their relationship if the contracts lasted for more than a few years. But 10 years is a long time to go without the possibility of adjusting contracts — particularly given that most union contracts at Yale over the last 35 years have been for three or four years. Already the two sides have disagreed on the proposed length of contracts with unions favoring shorter over longer. In earlier negotiations this year, Yale leaders have asked for six-year contracts while union leaders have asked for a four-year contract.
But despite uncertainties over the length of the contract, the unions would be well-served to accept Yale’s contract offer. In the context of an ailing national economy and a state where many workers have faced layoffs and givebacks, Yale’s contract offers stand out by offering substantial raises and high levels of job security. The University proposes to increase pensions between 14 and 19 percent, which is a reasonable increase, though not an outstandingly generous one.
Union members expressed their frustrations and furthered Yale’s reputation as a campus with troubled labor relations with the walkout earlier this month. With the strike now over, union leaders have few realistic options besides settling contracts quickly. Given the strong contract offers already on the table, it is unlikely that any more dragging out of negotiations will lead to much more than needlessly delayed raises for workers and prolonged headaches for the campus.