Tensions between Yale’s largest union and the administration reached a new high yesterday, when Local 34 — the University’s white and pink-collar union — unanimously voted to take broader action to reverse the budget cuts that the unions say have left fewer workers with more work.
Though the endowment grew to an all-time high in fiscal 2014 and the budget deficit likely shrank considerably, the University will continue its plan to reduce administrative costs — a move that has frustrated Yale’s unions. In the past, when the University reduced administrative costs, Local 34 President Laurie Kennington said the union engaged in discussion and delivered petitions to Yale administrators. Yet, the news that the University would continue its plans to reduce administrative costs, despite a record-high endowment, incited Local 34 to change course as the union looks to restore services and positions lost over the last few years.
“We have exhausted our current mode of problem solving and … it’s time to escalate,” Kennington said.
Kennington declined to comment on specific actions, citing that members of Local 34 will convene on Oct. 14 to discuss and decide on strategies. She conceded, however, that Local 34 cannot strike because the union’s contract lasts until 2017.
Still, the union could mobilize support through various approaches involving its members, allies in Local 35 — Yale’s blue-collar union — and interested Yale students, Kennington said.
Jayme Gordneer, an electronic commerce senior administrative assistant, said she is dismayed by the continuation of cost reduction, considering she has seen the endowment grow “astronomically” for six out of the last seven years of her employment at Yale.
According to Gordneer, the University is not filling vacant administrative positions, and given the same level of work, budget cuts simply should not exist.
An administrative assistant to the registrar of a Yale academic department, who wished to remain anonymous out of concern for job security, declined to comment on ideas raised during Wednesday’s meeting because she did not want to diminish their potential future impact. She added that increasing pressure on the University is necessary, because past efforts have been ineffective.
During meetings with the unions, administrators previously proposed committees to conduct studies, she said. These studies often resulted in nothing more than delayed discussion and inaccurate findings.
As a result of reductions in personnel costs — which she believes the University has the ability to reverse — the administrative assistant said her department lost its receptionist and her workload increased to include one-third of the receptionist’s duties.
“It’s very stressful and demoralizing to have to provide the same level of customer service with all the duties that are on my desk,” she said. “To have to diminish the capability that I have to provide that level of customer service is horrific.”
Wednesday’s meeting follows a festive rally of Local 34 and Local 35 members in front of Sterling Memorial Library two weeks ago that sought to demonstrate the solidarity and strength of organized labor at Yale, amid increasingly tense labor relations.
Though University Provost Benjamin Polak said last month that the figures on last year’s budget deficit have not yet been finalized, he said the 20.2 percent return on the endowment during fiscal 2014 and higher than anticipated revenue from the Yale School of Medicine dramatically reduced the deficit. Still, Polak cautioned against extrapolating the positive results from fiscal 2014 to future years. He noted that the possibility of rising gas prices in the Northeast, coupled with increased pressure on the healthcare system, could have dramatic implications for budget predictions.
“It’s extremely good news that our medical school had a great year — it’s very likely because of tremendous work over there,” he said last month. “[But] looking now and looking 10 years out, there’s uncertainty there.”
Looking forward, Polak said two weeks ago that there is no reason to alter previously made budget targets.
Last spring, the University announced plans to reduce administrative costs by 5 percent in three years and by 9 percent in five years. At the time, Polak said that in the vast majority of cases, units were already coming in on or under budget.
Local 34 is part of the Federation of University Employees, a coalition of labor unions that includes thousands of workers at Yale University and Yale-New Haven Hospital.