With the expiration of its current labor contract looming, the Yale Security Department is facing internal division over a potential union change.
Last week, a vote held to determine whether to leave Yale Security’s current union — Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America — and form a far smaller, independent union failed to deliver a decisive result. While slightly more members voted to stay in the SPFPA, enough supported creating a new union or voted in favor of neither option to push the vote to a run-off election. The current contract between the University administration and Yale Security expires in January 2015, adding an incentive to complete the negotiations as quickly as possible.
The distinction hinges on the trade-off between independence and size. The smaller union claims to offer Yale Security officers a greater voice, while the current union, headquartered in Michigan, claims to provide a heavier counterweight to the University.
“We need to unite as a union,” one Yale Security officer, who asked for anonymity in order to protect his job, said. “That’s got to be the number one goal because we’re not united right now — it’s split down the middle.”
Efforts to form a smaller union, which would be called the Yale University Security Officers Association, are supported by The Law Offices of Michael Hanley, a law firm based in Quincy, Mass. Thomas Horgan, the attorney heading the initiative, did not respond to requests for comment made on Wednesday.
Though the officer said he plans to support the existing union during the next election, he continued to insist that solidarity within the department should remain its primary objective because, ultimately, the union is designed to defend its collective interests in front of Yale Security’s managers. The existing split, he added, will be hard to overcome because of how intensely the opposing factions feel about the decision.
Another officer, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, felt that enough had gone wrong under the SPFPA for him to strongly consider supporting the YUSOA, were he to eventually vote.
“We’ve kind of been at the bottom of the barrel,” the officer said. “If I vote, it wouldn’t be for the guys in charge right now.”
He said that the SPFPA has not been active enough in providing strong infrastructure for Yale Security workers since it began representing the department in 2010, citing instances in which his colleagues were dismissed without the support of the union as examples of its ineffectiveness.
A third member of the department, who also declined to provide his name, said Yale Security officers tend to manage themselves autonomously, adding that upcoming negotiations will not hinge too seriously upon major grievances.
Leaders of the SPFPA argued that switching to a smaller union would weaken Yale Security’s position against the University.
“It’s a matter of size,” said SPFPA Director Guy Thomas. “The problem with a small union is companies don’t take them as seriously as they do with a large union.”
Mark Crawford, who as a regional vice president for the SPFPA is responsible for Yale Security, noted that the alternative is a union run through a small law firm. Meanwhile, he said, the SPFPA keeps six lawyers on retainer at any given time.
The SPFPA has sent organizers to Yale to persuade Yale Security workers to stay in the SPFPA, Crawford said, adding that he is confident Yale Security would remain in the national union.
But despite the potential ramifications of changing their union representation, few Yale Security staff interviewed expressed strong opinions on the issue. Three other Yale Security staff interviewed, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said they were indifferent about who represented them in negotiations with the University.
Associate Vice President for Administration Janet Lindner said that the University has no preference as to which direction Yale Security takes.
“The decision, which they will make through the NLRB election, is up to them and the University has not expressed a preference or taken a position on the outcome,” Lindner said. “Yale hopes all security officers vote, because one of these two options will be chosen — and to have a say in the outcome, you need to vote.”
Lindner added that the University has already begun negotiating with the SPFPA on a new contract, and that Yale hopes to complete the negotiations before January. However, the timeline for that process could be substantially shifted by the result of the vote.
Yale Security ratified its first contract in 2011.