Amy Cheng

UNITE HERE Local 34 and Local 35, Yale’s unions for its service, clerical, technical and maintenance workers, reached new tentative contracts with the University, narrowly escaping their Jan. 20 deadline. According to the New Haven Independent, detailed discussions regarding specific terms are scheduled to begin between unions leaders and individual union departments.

A union vote to ratify the contracts will take place next Wednesday. Ratification would mark the end of a long negotiation process that began mid-March last year. While union members have declined to provide details about the new contracts until they are confirmed, Local 34 and Local 35, which represent about 5,000 Yale employees, have expressed concern in the past about non-union hiring and reduced benefits for new workers.

However, a joint statement today from leaders of both unions and from University officials signaled confidence in the confirmation of the proposed contracts as well as long-term cooperation between the two parties.

“Working hard and listening to each other has led to a very good agreement,” Local 35 president Bob Proto said in the release. Proto’s enthusiasm was shared by his counterpart, Local 34 president Laurie Kennington ’01, who said she was excited to present the new deal to her constituents.

Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Mike Peele said he views the tentative agreement as a pivot from Yale’s “turbulent labor history.” In August 2003, Local 34 and Local 35 went on strike for three weeks when negotiations between Yale and the two unions stalled.  

This latest contract renewal negotiation was the longest in recent history, with Yale and the unions reaching a preliminary agreement with only eight days to spare. The current contract was signed into effect in June 2012, six months before the deadline. The previous contract was signed in 2009, nine months before the expiration date.

The bargaining process was mainly prolonged by three points of contention. First, there are 986 clinical jobs at the Yale medical school that face the possibility of being occupied by non-union members, which has motivated union members to protest on multiple occasions.

Union leaders such as Kennington  have also criticized the University in the past for allegedly undercutting employee benefits for new hires, a policy union representatives said they would not accept.

In a November interview with the News, Kennington expressed the unions’ frustration regarding what they see as a lack of hiring in preparation for the opening of Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges. Not hiring enough people would bring down the quality of service for students and add to the workload of current employees, she said.

Since last March, Local 34 and Local 35 have sent a team of union leaders to bargain with University representatives on behalf of union members, and constantly update their constituents during routine membership meetings.