In less than two weeks, the University and its two labor unions, Locals 34 and 35, are slated to agree on a new three-year union contract, union members said Friday.
The yet-to-be finalized agreement, which remains largely similar to the current contract between the University and its unions, was announced to union members earlier this week. And although the unions have shared a historically embattled relationship with Yale in the past, the timing of this contract signing – roughly nine months ahead of time – led some union members to feel optimistic about their future with the University.
The timing of the agreement, some union members said, was emblematic of the departure from the troubled past three decades relationship.
Because of Yale’s current economic malaise, the proposed union contract, which will be voted on by the unions on April 14, will only last three years.
With some concessions by both parties — including stronger job security language, which was fought for by union officials after the University indicated that widespread layoffs were inevitable — the terms of the agreement are relatively the same as stated in the current eight-year contract, union members said Friday. But the members also stressed that the contract language must still be finalized.
The union members attributed the creation of the early contract to a better relationship among the parties due to the “Best Practices” agreement created in the current contract. Modeled after labor practices in other corporate environments, the “Best Practices” board members, comprised of University administrators and union officials, can resolve conflicts and better labor relations, according to the Locals 34 and 35 union contracts.
Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel did not immediately respond to a request for comment left at his office Friday afternoon. The Labor-Management Relations division of the Human Resources department referred comment Friday to the Office of Public Affairs.
University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky had no comment when contacted by the News on Friday afternoon.
The half-dozen union members interviewed Friday said they were excited by the early creation of the new contract. But many declined to discuss specific details because they were told not to discuss them until the day of the vote.
The presidents for Locals 34 and 35 — Laura Smith and Bob Proto, respectively — and Yale unions spokesman Evan Cobb GRD ’05 did not immediately return a request for comment left on their voicemails Friday afternoon.
For Maureen Malone Jones, a library services assistant in Sterling Memorial Library and a steering committee member of the Best Practices initiative, the move is “historic.”
“We had a strike almost every time a contract had been coming up. It’s been a very, very hard relationship and with the language that we won in our last contract [the “Best Practices” initiative], it set the precedent for trying to do it a new way,” said Jones, who is a Local 34 district representative and had worked to create the union in 1983. “We try to understand their interest, and they try to understand ours.”
Shirley Lin, a Local 34 district representative who works in the Genetics department in the School of Medicine, said the current agreement “adds progress and growth” to the union’s labor conditions and will allow the parties to revisit labor issues when the economy improves. She said she will vote for the agreement.
“I think it’d be a wonderful change of pace for students to go through a 4-year or 6-year program without having to encounter a strike,” she said.
To be sure, an agreement forged nine months early is a vast improvement from 2002, the last time the unions negotiated an agreement with Yale. Union members eventually voted to sign a contract with the University in Sept. 2003, after nineteen months of rocky negotiations and over four weeks of striking.
The contract’s eight-year term was the longest ever for a University labor contract. Union members said the economy was better, and thus workers felt more comfortable with a long-term contract. The University had proposed a ten-year term at the time.
Local 34 is Yale’s clerical and technical employee union, and Local 35 is Yale’s service and maintenance employee union.
Paul Needham contributed reporting.