As Yale prepared for the arrival of 1,373 freshmen last Friday, it did not predict over 400 labor union members to contribute to the commotion on Old Campus.
Members of Local 34, Yale’s white- and pink-collar union representing technical and clerical workers, and Local 35, Yale’s blue-collar labor union representing dining, custodial and maintenance workers , gathered in front of Old Campus to pressure University leadership to include “job security language” in their ongoing contract negotiations. According to UNITE HERE member and event spokesman Aldo Cupo, such language includes one-for-one replacement when a worker is fired, no outsourcing of jobs to workers outside of the union and maintaining job positions through transition periods. UNITE HERE is the national labor union that funds Locals 34 and 35 as well as Local 33, the union formerly known as Yale’s Graduate Employees and Students Organization. The two current contracts, which were officially enacted in January 2013, are set to expire in January 2017.
“We are seeing layoffs because of [budgetary reasons], not because the work itself is gone,” Cupo said. “As Yale grows, we should grow.”
In light of ongoing and slated expansions, such as two new colleges scheduled to open in 2017 and academic facilities, union members are questioning a lack of growth in Yale’s support staff. As recently as January 2016, Local 34 members and leaders asked University President Peter Salovey and University Provost Benjamin Polak to rescind the layoffs of 10 staff members from Yale Information Technology Services.
Starting at 9 a.m. last Friday, union members donned shirts calling on passers-by to ask them about labor peace and tabled near the intersection of College and Elm streets where they handed out fliers to Yale’s newest arrivals and accompanying parents.
Featuring a large number “13” on one side, the navy blue flier highlighted the 13 continuous years of labor peace between Yale and its unions. The last instance of unrest was in 2003, when University workers went on strike multiple times and pushed the administration into contract negotiations with the two unions. The flyer also identified the unions’ current main point of conflict with the University: the shrinking work force despite Yale’s ongoing growth.
According to Cupo, UNITE HERE chose to gather during freshman move-in because they wanted to alert Yale’s newest parents and students of the ongoing interactions between Yale and its unions. Cupo said the unions wanted to highlight the potential impact of an insufficient workforce to the undergraduate community.
“I see Yale growing and the staff shrinking,” said Mary Thigpen, a UNITE HERE member who has worked at Yale’s health clinic for 25 years and who was also present at UNITE HERE’s Friday demonstration.
As a result, Thigpen said, it is “very important” to approve a fair contract. Currently, Local 34 President Laurie Kennington and Local 35 President Bob Proto are negotiating with the Yale administration over the new contracts, Thigpen said. She added that the unions members do not yet know when negotiations will be finalized.
Others expressed concern over the length of time passed in this year’s negotiations. UNITE HERE member and event spokeswoman Elia Vollano said that in the past, contracts have been settled over half a year in advance of the ones set to expire. Though negotiations have been ongoing since March, the absence of an agreement by late August means that negotiations are running later than usual.
“It just does not seem like the administration is taking [negotiations] as seriously,” Vollano said.
In a Friday statement to the News, University spokesman Tom Conroy said Yale “hopes to reach agreement” on new contracts before the current ones expire.
Friday’s manifestation was the latest in a series of clashes between UNITE HERE unions and the Yale administration. Tension has grown steadily between Local 33 and the University over the past few semesters, as graduate students continue to call on the administration to recognize them as Yale’s employees.
Perhaps more contentiously, the New Haven Independent recently reported that the University threatened to hold back a $5.6 million annual donation to New Haven after “repeated fights with its UNITE HERE union Locals 34 and 35 and their employees who serve on the Board of Alders.” According to the Independent, the Board of Alders had delayed the approval of a University project to build a new biology laboratory on Whitney Avenue, which is now expected to be approved at the board’s next meeting on Sept. 6.
But despite conflicts, union members did not bring up the possibility of labor strikes on Friday.
“We are out here about job security,” Cupo said.