UNITE HERE Local 34 and Local 35 — the unions that represent roughly 5,000 service, clerical, technical and maintenance employees at Yale — both ratified their respective five-year contracts Wednesday night, putting an end to one of the longest arbitration processes between the unions and the University since 2003.
Both unions reached tentative contract agreements with the University last Thursday, after which union leaders from Local 34 and Local 35 said they were happy with the final results of their negotiations and confident that they would be approved by members. Following Wednesday’s vote, which was overwhelmingly affirmative, it was clear those sentiments were reflective of the union as a whole. Members exited following the tally, hugging and congratulating each other after the vote, which marked the end of nine months of negotiation.
“It is a good contract all around, not just job security, which was our major issue, but also health care and wages,” said Ken Suzuki, the secretary-treasurer of Local 34.
In the negotiations, union members and University administrators focused on job security, health care and pensions. According to Yale’s press release, members of both unions are promised a weighted average of 2.5 percent wage increase amongst all members as well as a one-time retirement incentive for those who are more than 62 years old with at least 25 years of service. The newly ratified contracts both expire in 2022, leaving both Yale and the unions five years to adjust to the settlement and discuss prospective improvements. Local 34 President Laurie Kennington ’01 said her constituents are excited about the new contracts, but there will always be “an ongoing challenge” to have good wages and benefits for current and future union members.
Members of Local 34 feared the prospect of losing 986 clinical jobs at the Yale School of Medicine to nonunion members. But Local 34’s new contract includes a no-layoff clause, barring the University from relocating union members to Yale New Haven Hospital and subcontracting union members’ jobs, said Alita Ford, an account assistant at the Yale medical school.
Suzuki and University spokesman Tom Conroy said the new agreement also includes language that clarifies the boundaries between University jobs and Yale New Haven Hospital positions, aiming to give clinical members of Local 34 greater job security.
Yale’s Vice President of Human Resources and Administration Mike Peel, the University’s lead negotiator, expressed satisfaction with the agreement and said he was glad the negotiation cycle concluded before Friday’s deadline. In 2012, the University and unions signed a contract six months before the expiration date. The previous contract, which was signed in 2009, came nine months before the deadline.
“The new labor agreements with UNITE HERE Locals 35 and 34 ratified this afternoon reflect just how far University-union relations have come in the past decade,” Peel said in a Wednesday statement.
He added that the new contracts are the third consecutive pair of agreements achieved without conflict, attributing its success to University managers and union leaders alike.
Back in 2003, after negotiations failed to come to agreements before the set deadline, both Local 34 and Local 35 went on strike for three consecutive weeks.
“I credit this progress to stronger and more effective front-line supervisors throughout the University, enhanced communications between the University and unions, and the commitment of both University and union leaders to the building of a more collaborative relationship,” Peel said.
After a 40-minute membership meeting in Battell Chapel, members of Local 35 voted to ratify its new contract with no interruption. Servicing nearly 1,400 Yale employees, Local 35 President Bob Proto said that this new contract acts as “one of the best standards in the nation,” demonstrating great potential and possibilities to America’s working class.
According to Griffin, Local 35’s new contract not only retained his pension and his current wage levels, but also guaranteed free access to health care. He added that the no-layoff clause promised him job security for the entirety of the new settlement, as well as two more years after the expiration date in 2022.
Proto’s enthusiasm was echoed by Local 35 member and Silliman dining hall worker Schymon Griffin.
“This is the best contract we have ever had,” Griffin said. “It was worth waiting for after a year of negotiating.”
During Local 35’s meeting, Proto also announced his wish to run for union presidency in the upcoming election — news welcomed by Griffin and fellow union members. Griffin cited Proto’s leadership and knowledge demonstrated during the bargaining process as reasons why Griffin will support Proto.
Though Local 35 signed a satisfactory contract with Yale, Proto’s speech during the membership meeting showed an underlying concern the union has in terms of its collaboration with the University. Proto cited the close relationship Local 34 and Local 35 share with the Elm City’s Board of Alders, but he reminded event attendees that these positions might face challengers in elections.
“Don’t think Yale is going to run somebody against them. Don’t think Yale wants us to have our hands on the steering wheel as it relates to political leverage of this town,” Proto proclaimed as his words reverberated through Battell Chapel. “They want to have the power. Right now we have the power.”
Ratifying their contract one hour after Local 35’s vote, members of Local 34 also showed overwhelming satisfaction in the language included in their new settlement. Suzuki said to his estimation, the new contract was agreed upon almost unanimously by the members. Calling the ratification “gratifying,” Suzuki said this past negotiation cycle has been the longest among his six contract negotiations with Yale.
“I have to say, there was a lot of hard work from both sides because the issues were so difficult, especially with our critical job security [issue],” Suzuki added. “It is a good contract all around, not just job security, which was our major issue, but also health care and wages.”
In addition to Peel, the other key members of the University negotiations team included Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs and Campus Development Bruce Alexander ’65, Deputy Vice President of Human Resources and Administration Janet Lindner, Vice Provost and University Title IX Coordinator Stephanie Spangler and Senior Director of Labor Relations Jane Savage.