There is a common topic of discussion in dining halls, administrative offices, facilities trucks and elsewhere these days: budget cuts.
While the University works to slash its budget deficit with University-wide cuts, staff members across Yale grow increasingly dissatisfied. Eight union members interviewed — from both Local 34, which represents many of Yale’s white- and pink-collar staff, and Local 35, which represents primarily blue-collar Yale employees, including custodial, dining and maintenance workers — said that the relationship between the University and the unions has deteriorated, with five members adding that they expect the unions will go on strike within the next year or two.
“I’ve been a 23-year employee of the University, and this is the worst that I’ve seen it,” said one member of the Local 34 union who works in an academic department and spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing his job. “Even back in the 90s it wasn’t this bad.”
University President Peter Salovey said the University has done its best to protect union employees from the budget cuts, and that other Yale constituencies have felt more of an impact. One Local 35 member echoed Salovey, saying that managers have felt the brunt of the budget cuts because they do not have the protection of a union.
Still, Yale union employees said their main complaint is that they are being asked to do more with less.
Brian Wingate, a Local 35 vice president and Ward 29 alder, said the University is not replacing jobs when people retire and is shuffling many employees around to different jobs.
Many Local 35 members believe the personnel changes are an effort to cut costs without explicitly violating the no-layoff clause in Local 35’s contract, one facilities worker said.
“The bottom line is, you’re not replacing people, [and] that means other people [have] got to do other people’s work,” Wingate said. “You’re doing two jobs.”
He added that the University has substantially decreased the frequency of custodial service. Rather than having custodial staff remove trash every day, he said, the administration has instructed the staff to remove it once or twice a week.
Sulema Hamilton, a Local 35 custodial union steward, said the reduced level of maintenance is “embarrassing” for the University.
One Local 34 member, who works in an academic department, said that the layoff of one person in her department has had major ramifications for the rest of the staff.
“We ourselves in our department have lost our receptionist due to budgetary restraints and cuts,” the employee said. “And her responsibilities are passed on to people already overloaded with the duties.”
Added to this are major concerns about the opening of two new residential colleges and the arrival of 800 new students to inhabit them in the next few years.
The Local 34 member said that the University has not communicated a plan to staff about how they will be expected to deal with the influx of new students.
The cumulative impact of the budget cuts has been a deterioration in organized labor’s relationship with the University, union members said
“Some of the problem-solving is beginning to fray around the edges for us around the University as well, after several years of budget cuts,” said Local 34 President Laurie Kennington, pointing to the dining hall reorganization and tensions at Yale Medical School. “We are facing certainly more challenging labor situations than we have had here in a number of years.”
Wingate said he felt the relationship was “moving backwards instead of moving forward,” adding that he feels unions members are “not really get the whole story of why they’re doing some things.”
Several union members, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs, painted an even grimmer picture of the situation.
“They’re trying to get rid of jobs,” said one dining hall worker who is a member of Local 35. “When our contract comes up, all hell is going to break loose.”
Hamilton said she feels that by downsizing staff over time, the University is attempting to degrade the power of the unions.
A number of those interviewed said they think Salovey and the rest of the senior administration have not engaged with the brewing issues.
“I think they’re totally disconnected from the problem,” Hamilton said. “[Salovey] should take the time to speak to the workers, speak to the people doing the jobs.”
The Local 34 employee said they feel Salovey is “not interested at all” in dealing with growing dissatisfaction amongst the labor force. A second dining hall employee, who is also a member of Local 35, said that he thinks Salovey has been isolated from the problems, which seem to be dealt with at the level of Vice President for Facilities John Bollier and Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander ’65.
“[Salovey] is basically listening to Rafi,” the dining hall worker said, referring to the executive director of Yale dining Rafi Taherian. “He wants to use less people to do the same jobs, and to me it’s not working.”
Alexander did not respond to questions about how the budget cuts have impacted relations with the unions, or what he sees as challenges going forward.
Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel said that all Yale faculty and staff have had to cope with changes since budget cuts began in late 2009, he said he does not believe the relationship between the University and the unions has deteriorated since the budget struggles began.
Peel further noted that the University cannot layoff Local 35 members. Instead, it can only reduce positions by attrition.
“Therefore, in some cases, a staff member’s departure results in the reorganization of the work and the job not being filled,” Peel said. “Without the ability to layoff, this is the only way supervisors can adjust the size of their workforces to meet changing needs.”
But according to Peel, the number of Local 34 staff members working at Yale has actually grown since 2010 from 3,375 to 3,651, although that is a slight decrease from the 2013 high of 3,689. In the Local 35 union — which has a no-layoff clause in its contract — there are currently 1,162 members, down from 1,182 in 2013 but the same number as in 2010. Both of the union’s four-year contracts were ratified in the summer of 2012.
Still, several union members said they expected both unions would go on strike within the next 12 to 18 months.
“I’m pretty sure there will be a strike because the staff members aren’t having it,” the Local 34 member said.
With close to 5,000 employees — half of Yale’s workforce — the labor unions could effectively shut down campus, an occurrence that last happened in 2003.
“It’s going to be bad,” the second dining hall worker said. “You’re going to have kids not eating.”
Though Kennington did not suggest that the unions might go on strike, she said the unions are currently discussions strategies for how to address the budget cuts moving forward.
Before coming to a breakthrough agreement in 2003, Locals 34 and 35 struck seven times in a 34-year period.