The administration came to the table on Monday with a new union contract proposal. It has been so long since there was meaningful movement from the University that the Yale Daily News, in an editorial on March 25 (“Unions should accept Yale’s contract offer”), urged the unions to accept the offer unconditionally. The News believes that this is a narrow window of opportunity and that the administration is adopting a take-it-or-leave-it stance.
However, the Yale Daily News’ analysis of the situation does not do justice to President Levin. In his e-mail on Monday announcing the University’s offer, President Levin stated that he has learned an important lesson from the weeklong strike before spring break. His new proposal should be read in that context as a legitimate attempt to reopen dialogue about what workers need and how those needs can best be addressed. Even more optimistically, the new proposal means that President Levin is prepared to intervene personally in negotiations to ensure a speedy resolution. He will not leave the bargaining table simply because the University’s first new suggestion in nearly a year is not received with unmitigated gratitude. Rather, he is looking to start a dialogue and, after almost a year of labor dispute, he knows that this proposal is the beginning, not the end, of that dialogue.
The suggestion that a 10-year contract replace the more customary five-year contract is a new and radical element of President Levin’s proposal. Perhaps he hopes to reinvigorate negotiations and to get both sides talking about what they care about and why. Perhaps he believes that a longer-term contract can be a means to the end goal of labor peace. If so, he will engage in a dialogue with University employees about their concerns. Together, they will discuss potential modifications and other, alternative means of achieving that underlying goal. They will not let disagreement regarding the means to the end derail them.
There are some obvious possible advantages to the 10-year plan. By obviating the interruptions that result from negotiating delays between contracts, a longer contract period makes it possible for workers to plan for their future and to enjoy a longer period of uninterrupted, predictable earning.
The downsides are less immediately obvious, but just as real. For example, without guaranteed cost-of-living increases, locking in a 3 to 4 percent wage increase is quite risky. If it proves to be a mistake — if inflation hits the levels common in the 1970s, for example — workers will face declining real income, and they will want to address the issue as soon as possible.
Likewise, if Social Security flounders (as many fear it might) the Yale administration’s heavy reliance on Social Security payments to supplement the University pension will need to be addressed right away, not down the road. The future is uncertain, and workers may feel that it would be unwise for them to give up their ability to respond to changes.
Although there are both pros and cons to President Levin’s proposal, the important thing to remember is that he and the administration have indicated an intention to negotiate with Yale’s workers. We should all have faith in the sincerity of that intention.
Dana Goldblatt is a first-year student at the Law School. Jennifer Sung is a second-year student at the Law School.