In the latest development in an ongoing effort to improve labor-management relations at Yale, two openings for “best practices” facilitators were announced on Wednesday.

The two new positions come on the heels of a late October restructuring of labor-management relations at the University, another aspect of the broader best practices initiative. The effort dates back to the most recent contracts, which were signed in 2003 by the University and Locals 34 and 35. Labor and management representatives said the initiative already has eased some of the tensions that had marred previous working relationships. But they said the process is far from over, and some union representatives said the progress has been uneven across the University.

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Best practices are defined as changes that increase productivity, efficiency and employee or manager satisfaction. Under the 2003 contracts, the University and the unions agreed on the need for Joint Departmental Committees, which are groups of union and management representatives from a single division that meet to air grievances and to reach best practices solutions. But the initiative began to make the most progress in September 2005, when Yale hired Restructuring Associates, Inc. — a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm — to facilitate the committee discussions, said Paula Wilson, Yale’s director of best practices. The first five committees were launched in October 2005, followed by three more in February 2006.

Wilson said she expects to have two Yale employees hired by January to bring the committee facilitation in house. The University’s goal is eventually to create a culture of cooperation that does not require formal committees, she said.

As administrator for the Yale Animal Resources Center, Wilson led her division’s committee before being tapped to lead the best practices initiative. She said the discussion groups have already had an impact.

“In the past, labor and management would not sit at the table,” she said. “If labor was unhappy, they’d put in a grievance. It’s just a different way.”

The departmental committees in place now are pilot programs for the entire University. Wilson said the University hopes to add more committees once the current ones have finished their first projects successfully.

The YARC committee spent a year collecting data on how animal care technicians spent their time, yielding a more efficient staff schedule, Wilson said. The group presented its results at the national meeting of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science in October.

Ralph Craviso, Yale’s special assistant for workforce effectiveness, said the improvement throughout the University has been encouraging, but not without some setbacks. For a University that has historically seen confrontational labor-management relations, Craviso said, the progress is “remarkable.”

Craviso, hired last May to head up labor-management relations for the University, had his title and position changed within the finance and administration reporting structure in late October. He now reports directly to Shauna King, vice president for finance and administration, and his position now also covers the best practices program.

“It sends a message to the unions that [the best practices initiative is] important,” he said. “The change allows me to operate more independently and efficiently across the many departments and schools.”

Local 35 President Bob Proto said he is optimistic that the initiative will improve labor-management interactions. He said while the joint departmental committees in the Yale Health Plan, YARC and Yale Golf Course have been especially successful, the progress has not been uniform.

“In the dining halls [committee], we’re having some growing pains,” he said. “It has to do with a dysfunctional internal labor relations structure.”

He said dining hall managers employed by Aramark, which Yale hired in 1998 to run dining services, are not being properly trained to understand the terms of the contract with the Local 35. High turnover within the Aramark management has also contributed to the slow progress, he said.

Don McQuarrie, executive director of dining services and an Aramark employee, did not return requests for comment Thursday.

Kenny Mahoney, a cook in the Ezra Stiles/Morse kitchen who was on the dining services joint departmental committee when it was working in those two dining halls, said the committee’s efforts have helped make for a better working environment. He said a number of positions that were only scheduled for 10 or 12 hours a week became 20 hour a week jobs. Giving employees more benefits, which become available at 20 hours a week, was not the only reason the change was an improvement, he said.

“It’s better to have somebody here more often,” Mahoney said.

The individual committees are supplemented by a central Policy Board, composed of senior University administrators and the Locals 34 and 35 presidents, and a Steering Committee of 10 unionized and management-level employees. Both meet once a month, which Craviso said allows the changes in behavior on both sides to be reinforced.