Local 35 union members listen to President Bob Proto talk about the new contract. Photo taken by Sai Rayala.

 Sixteen months after negotiations began, members of Yale’s two main unions voted to ratify new five-year contracts with the University, covering over 5,000 workers. 

Locals 34 and 35 separately gathered on Wednesday to ratify two separate five-year contracts. The University announced last month that it had reached a tentative agreement with the two unions after nearly 16 months of debate. The contract negotiation process was the subject of a protest by New Haven unions last spring, in which members demanded that Yale settle “fair contracts” with the union. The protestors spoke out against preliminary salary and benefit cuts and stressed the importance of job stability, sustained healthcare and retirement benefits and increased hiring of New Haven residents.

The new contracts will cover 3,700 clerical and technical workers in Local 34 and nearly 1,400 service and maintenance workers in Local 35. They include job security provisions and wage increases for members of both unions, along with pension and healthcare benefits.

“Together, our unions rose to the challenges created by the pandemic and worked with the University to settle a contract that provides two of the best standards in the nation,” Local 35 President Bob Proto wrote in a Wednesday press release. 

Members of Local 35 gathered on the New Haven Green for their ratification meeting. After listening to a presentation on the contract by Proto, members cast their votes in ballot boxes. The majority of workers voted in favor of the contract, and Proto told the News that there was only one no-vote.

“This new agreement maintains the high standard that we’ve always had which is important,” Proto said. “It is absolutely the strongest university contract in the country.”

Local 34 members gathered near the Yale Bowl that same evening for their ratification meeting. According to the New Haven Independent, the vote to approve the contract was taken by voice, with people asked to respond as a group to approve or reject the agreement.

Rich Esposito, who is part of Local 35’s executive board and was involved in the bargaining process, said negotiating the contracts with the University took “a lot of hard work.” The nearly 16 months of negotiations took place solely over videoconferencing technology, according to the University’s September press release. 

“I am delighted that we have reached tentative agreements with Local 34 and Local 35,” Yale President Peter Salovey said in a September press release issued after tentative agreements were reached. “Yale’s strong partnership with our unions has helped the community overcome many challenges, including the unforeseen difficulties brought about by the pandemic.”

Esposito, who is also one of the workers taking care of plumbing and heating for the University, said the most important benefit of Local 35’s new contract was the job security it provided. Local 35’s contract includes a no-layoff clause which states that the University can not lay off any workers for the duration of the contract. The contract also includes a one-for-one hiring mandate, which requires the University to hire for each employee who retires or otherwise leaves.

The Local 34 contract includes a new “alternative placement” system for laid-off employees, which involves a 90-day process for employees to transition to a different position with salary protection, according to the New Haven Independent.

“We’ve just achieved a great contract, especially in these times,” Esposito told the News.

Esposito said the wage increases were also an important benefit that stuck out to him from the contract. Local 35’s contract includes a 13 percent increase in wages over the five year term. This includes a 2.75 percent increase in January 2022, a 2.75 percent increase in January 2023, a 2.50 percent increase in January 2024, a 2.50 percent increase in January 2025 and a 2.50 percent increase in January 2026. 

According to the New Haven Independent, Yale had originally proposed an annual two percent raise across the board for Local 34 members. The union ultimately negotiated a 2.25 percent annual raise from 2022 to 2024, and a 2.5 percent annual raise from 2025 to 2026. These raises are on top of an additional two percent raise each year for employees in their first 11 years at Yale.

“Our members made their voices heard. Now, thousands of families will benefit from the economic standard and stability that these contracts provide,” said Local 34 Secretary-Treasurer Ken Suzuki in the unions’ press release.

The new contracts will expire in January 2027.

Sai Rayala reports on Yale-New Haven relations. She previously covered climate and environmental efforts in New Haven. Originally from Powell, Ohio, she is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College majoring in History.