Over a hundred members of Local 34 and 35 — Yale’s clerical, technical and maintenance worker unions — chanted as they sprawled across the corner of Whitney and Grove streets with signs and banners declaring “stop the cuts” and “we are protecting our jobs.”
After more than half a year of negotiations and with a Jan. 20 deadline for a new labor contract, the group aimed on Wednesday to boost its visibility among school administrators and on campus. Members of Local 34 and 35 gathered in the area surrounding the Provost’s office, located at 2 Whitney Ave., for a 20-minute lunch-break demonstration that aimed to inform University administrators of the unions’ wishes for the new settlement, according to Pamela O’Donnell, vice president of Local 34 and registrar of the economics department.
O’Donnell identified job security as the unions’ primary concern when negotiating with the University, adding that in recent years Yale has not been hiring people who are protected under Local 34 and 35 at a rate congruent to the expansion of the campus.
“Job security for us means growing while the University grows in every area,” O’Donnell said. “And we would like to make sure that we get back some of those jobs that we had lost in 2008 because a lot of us are really overworked through attrition.”
Yale is not the only school facing an urgent deadline to reach a settlement with its labor unions. At Harvard University, dining services employees represented by UNITED HERE Local 26 prolonged their strike into a second week.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Harvard had offered to increase the average wage by 10 percent, offer a $250 weekly stipend during summer breaks and add $25 million to the union’s health care plan. Unhappy with the school’s series of proposals, the dining services employees discontinued their service last Wednesday, effectively halting operations in six of Harvard’s 12 dining halls, according to an email sent to the student body Tuesday afternoon by Marilyn Hausammann, Harvard’s vice president for human resources.
The student body was aware of the potential strike in the weeks leading up to it, said Tianxing Lan, a junior at Harvard and a staff writer for the Harvard Crimson. Still, the strike and its prolonged nature came as a surprise to students, he said.
“I for one, and I think there are a lot of students like me, thought it was most likely that they would reach an agreement and not have an actual strike,” Lan said. “Because I feel like for a school like Harvard, it is really bad for publicity if there is a strike.”
Though the chance to prevent a campus strike has already passed for Harvard, Yale has two months remaining before its current contract with Local 34 and 35 expires.
Union members expressed optimism toward reaching a settlement before the deadline. The union has already overcome several challenges with the University and wishes to maintain its good relationship with the administration, Local 34 President Laurie Kennington ’01 said.
“We have a lot of faith in the partnership that we’ve built with Yale,” Kennington said. “We are ready to get to work and get the contract done.”
Members of Local 34 were equally confident that negotiations would be fruitful. Union leaders have communicated the current progress to members in a timely fashion, said Cynthia Conforte, a financial assistant in the physics department.
As an Elm City resident and 15-year Yale employee, Conforte said Local 34 has come a long way in building its popular base and giving its members a sense of security. This year is the first since 2004 that the union has organized demonstrations.
Overall, members of Local 34 are excited about the prospect of a new labor contract being finalized in upcoming meetings with the administrators, O’Donnell said.
“We are really confident that with the hard work that we are doing with the University that we are going to be able to come to a really suitable settlement for our members,” said O’Donnell. “And we hope that when it comes to our brothers and sisters up in Harvard that they are able to come up with a fair living wage and benefits package as well very soon.”
Yale employs dining hall workers during the academic year, as well as during breaks.