As the University continues cutting costs, union members are now making the case that the cuts do not only affect their job positions, but also the life of the community as a whole.
After Local 34 — Yale’s pink- and white-collar union — voted to action to reverse budget cuts last week, the union’s members convened in two meetings on Tuesday to establish a united front with Local 35 and the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, the unrecognized graduate student union.
“We’ve always worked together as a coalition, but it’s been a while since we’ve all been dealing with the same problem at the same time,” Local 34 President Laurie Kennington said. “We’re going to be coming together and talking to other groups on campus that will be affected by budget cuts, and deciding whether we can stand together to address them at the same time.”
The coalition of unions will hold a demonstration on Oct. 21, Kennington said.
Meanwhile, administrators have insisted on their commitment to maintaining the University’s relationship with its unions.
“While we will need to manage our budget expenditures carefully for some time to come, we are hopeful that the most difficult adjustments are now behind and will be less a source of tension with our unions,” University Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel said.
While the relationship between the unions and the administration is strained, the one between Local 34 and its sister union — Local 35, which represents blue-collar workers at Yale — is as close as ever, according to union leaders.
Secretary Treasurer of Local 35 Tyisha Walker that it is crucial for the unions to learn about the concerns their allies face, in order for both to realize their goals.
“When people’s minds are separate only to their organization, I don’t think that really accomplishes anything,” said Walker, who was present at Tuesday evening’s meeting. “Things that affect Local 34 also affect Local 35.”
A SHIFT AWAY FROM CENTRAL CAMPUS
Despite Local 34’s complaints, the number of unionized employees has actually increased at the University in recent years. In 2010, the University employed 3,375 Local 34 members, according to Peel. Today it employs 3,651.
Nevertheless, union members have taken issue with the reduction of positions on central campus. According to Kennington, Local 34 employees have lost 91 positions on central campus over the last six years, amounting to a nine percent reduction.
As the University has continued to reduce administrative costs over the last five years, union members have frequently voiced grievances that more work has been left to fewer workers on central campus. The shift, union members and leaders say, suggests that the administration is shifting its focus from central campus to other parts of Yale.
Over the last six years, the School of Management increased by 22 positions, while the School of Medicine added 255 positions to its staff, according to Kennington.
The reduction in positions, union members also argue, has diminished the quality of the undergraduate experience at Yale.
Senior Administrative Assistant at the School of Engineering and Applied Science Ben McManus said he was concerned by the fact that the University has declared its commitment to expand engineering, but still continues to lay off staff in these and other departments. The engineering school has seen a 19 percent reduction in staff, from 21 Local 34 employees in 2008 to 17 today, Kennington said.
“We are constantly operating in crisis mode; therefore, the quality of life for the support staff is suffering, and by extension undergraduate life — the quality is suffering as well,” McManus said.
Nicholas Bernardo, manager of the machine shop at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said he used to have additional assistance from staff in teaching students how to use machinery for their coursework. But as the number of students involved in the department has grown and the number of staff has diminished, Bernardo has had to single-handedly man the shop and meet students’ requests.
But, Peel said the majority of position adjustments over recent years have not occurred in areas affecting undergraduates on central campus. Instead, they have been concentrated in support functions, rather than academic departments. He added jobs eliminated or changed have comprised just 20 to 30 of Local 34’s positions.
CONFUSION AMONG CUTS
Last month, the University’s endowment reached an all-time high. Given that, several union members said the continuation of budget cuts is a surprise.
Furthermore, several expressed skepticism about the University’s justification for continued cuts.
Mechanical Engineering Administrative Assistant Janet O’Dell said she has often been told cuts are necessary to ensure costs for students remain low. But in reality, she said, the cuts do not reduce student costs at all, as tuition and student financial aid contributions rise each year.
Since 2008, the student income contribution — the portion a student on financial aid must contribute to their tuition from summer earnings — has risen from $2,400 to $3,050 this year for upperclassmen.
University Provost Benjamin Polak said in September that the 20.2 percent return on the endowment, and higher than anticipated revenue from the Yale School of Medicine, dramatically reduced the fiscal 2014 deficit. But Polak said the positive 2014 results do not warrant complete confidence, and the University will continue to work towards its administrative cost reduction targets: by five percent in three years and nine percent in the next five years.
Student Financial Services Senior Loan Specialist Steve Fortes said that for the 37 years he has been employed at Yale, the University has repeatedly justified budget cuts with slow endowment growth. Even now that the endowment has rebounded, he said, the University has continued to claim they are struggling and require additional cost reductions.
Yet according to Peel, the endowment, adjusted for inflation, is still more than $2 billion in real dollars below its value six years ago. The University’s costs have also increased by 28 percent — in fiscal year 2009, the University spent $2.5 billion, compared to $3.2 billion today.
“Should the investment markets fall dramatically, like we all saw them do in late 2008, the recent progress we have made could easily evaporate,” Peel wrote in an email.
He added the financial plan developed prior to fiscal 2014 is working well and is important to pursue. In particular, he said practicing caution could help the University avoid layoffs and hardship in the future.
Fortes said recent cuts to administrative staff are of a different nature than what he has experienced during his years at Yale. In the past, losses of this scale were justified by the rise of computers and technology, which increased efficiency and allowed remaining employees to accomplish more work with fewer individuals in their department.
“Even then, you still had the amount of staffing you need,” Fortes said. “Now it’s nothing to do with computerization, it’s just someone quits or retires, and that job is gone.”
Still, Peel said technological change has been a factor in determining which positions to eliminate or expenses to scale back. New systems and tools introduced since 2001 do not require as much manual work, Peel added.
When unit members consider reducing administrative costs, they identify what work is non-essential or can be restructured more productively.
“Very often, we continue to do work the same way we had for decades,” Peel said. “There clearly was, and is, opportunity to be both more efficient and more effective.”
MOTION TO EXTEND
Fortes was part of the first negotiating team between Local 34 and the University just after the union’s founding in 1983. Over that time, the relationship between the union and the University has had its ups and downs, he said. The formation of the Shared Services Steering Committee — intended for Union members to discuss Yale’s reorganization of administrative work — led to an effective period of dialogue and discussion for the union.
But now, he said, relations are yet again heading downhill.
Similarly, Kennington said the union’s progress in negotiating its demands has stalled. The process has proven difficult compared to the last decade, when many issues between the University and Local 34 were resolved internally without confrontation.
“With budget cuts coming to an extreme point — the cuts have gone too far and services have been cut to the bone — we have to say to the University … it’s time for you to figure out how to bring to the table solutions and take action,” Kennington said.
University President Peter Salovey said Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander, Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel and Polak have continued lines of open communication with Yale’s unions.
Salovey said the Policy Board, which supports Yale’s Best Practices Initiative and the partnership between University management and the unions, has proved to be an effective forum to discuss challenging issues that have arisen in the past.
Still, workers continued to express concern over the state of the relationship.
“The University agreed that as they grow, we would grow, but they’re not doing that,” Facilities Senior Administrative Assistant Carmelita Morales said. “So here we go again, but I haven’t given up.”