The merger between the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, the parent of Yale’s locals 34 and 35, will benefit the University’s unions, locals 34 and 35 leaders said Friday.
The membership of both organizations must still approve the plans to create the new union, which will be known as UNITE HERE, at a special convention in July. But both groups would likely approve the merger, Yale professor Jennifer Klein, who specializes in labor history, said. Klein said the merger would make the University’s unions much stronger.
“The next time Yale provokes a confrontation or strike, the unions can see it through for a really long time,” Klein said.
Locals 34 and 35 represent 4,000 of Yale’s clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers. Members of both unions participated in a three-week strike against the University at the beginning of last semester.
The presidents of locals 34 and 35 both said they did not think the merger will cause any significant change in their day-to-day operations. But Local 34 President Laura Smith said she thought they would benefit from being part of UNITE HERE.
“As time goes on, it can only help to be part of such a strong organization as UNITE has been and continues to be,” Smith said.
Yale Chief Human Resources Officer Robert Schwartz said the University had no comment on the merger plans.
Local 35 President Bob Proto said Yale’s unions were looking forward to working with UNITE to organize new members.
“I think it’s a perfect fit,” Proto said.
Both Proto and Smith said they have had a positive experience with UNITE in the past, including during this fall’s three-week strike at Yale. Proto said members of UNITE joined picket lines and participated in rallies.
Klein said both unions will benefit from the merger. She said a major focus of UNITE has been building social institutions such as banks, medical centers and housing, a legacy of which HERE will now be a part. HERE will also receive access to larger financial resources, Klein said.
UNITE’s significant gain will be an increase in membership, Klein said. UNITE spokeswoman Amanda Cooper said the combined union will have 440,000 members. According to its Web site, HERE currently represents about 265,000 workers.
Cooper said the merger was the result of a shared philosophy and values and a joint interest in focusing on organizing.
UNITE President Bruce Raynor and HERE President John Wilhelm ’67 will share executive budget and pension authority, Cooper said. Raynor will be general president and Wilhelm will be president/hospitality industries.
“There are going to be two major leaders of this new union and they’re going to be it,” Cooper said.
Wilhelm did not return calls last week requesting comment.
Cooper said both executive boards approved the merger unanimously. She said both Raynor and Wilhelm are members of the New Unity Partnership, a progressive labor organization.
“They’ve been saying bigger unions were better for the movement so they decided to merge their own,” Cooper said.
Klein said other cross-sector mergers will likely occur, since unions are recognizing that it is necessary to pool their strength and move away from the one-union-one-firm based collective bargaining model for labor relations that has persisted since the 1950s. She said larger-sized unions provide greater economic power in bargaining situations and greater political power to bring about changes to the structures that hinder organizing efforts.
UNITE itself is the result of the merger of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union, Klein said. According to the UNITE Web site, the union was formed in 1995.
The new union will be headquartered in New York City, Cooper said.
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