University, police union contract negotiations off to rocky start
After the Yale police union’s contract expired on June 30, negotiations have proceeded at a slow pace, with each side pointing to the difficult negotiations process as the other side’s fault.
Lucas Holter, Senior Photographer
While the Yale police union was distributing flyers to new students and their families on move-in day, warning the newcomers of the dangers of New Haven, behind closed doors, the union’s contract negotiations with the University had largely stalled.
Few matters have been resolved so far in negotiations, with Yale Police Benevolent Association President Mike Hall accusing Yale of a lack of commitment to the negotiating process and characterizing one of Yale’s contract proposals as “catastrophic.” In a statement written to the News, Joe Sarno, the University’s director of labor relations, painted the union as being unresponsive to University proposals.
Meanwhile, members of the Yale community also criticized the union’s decision to flyer first-year students on move-in day.
Contract negotiations began this February and have stretched beyond the June 30 expiration date for the union’s previous contract with the University which was settled in 2018. Contract negotiations will resume on Sept. 13 after nearly a month-long break.
“Members feel that Yale has not demonstrated a commitment to the process, often being unprepared and unwilling to commit to full days of bargaining sessions,” said Hall. “Amongst the members, the sentiment is that we don’t feel respected or appreciated [by Yale] for the work that we do.”
University and union representatives describe contentious contract negotiations
Hall told the News that Yale denied requests from the Yale Police Benevolent Association to begin contract negotiations twice — both in the spring and the fall of 2022. Hall said the union was hoping to get a head start on negotiations as the process typically takes around 16 months.
In a statement to the News, Sarno characterized the scheduling of negotiations differently.
He said that following the YPBA’s request to initiate negotiations, the two parties met, and the University offered to extend the current collective bargaining agreement by one year. This would have bumped the existing contract’s expiration date to June 30, 2024. The extension the University offered would be limited solely to economic terms and would come with a commitment from the University to begin negotiations for a longer-term “successor agreement,” or more simply, a fresh contract, in January of 2023. The University, according to Sarno, also flagged the possibility of a “generous wage increase” effective July 1, 2023.
According to Sarno, although the YPBA agreed to consider and respond to the proposal, the union took no further action until it shared in the fall of 2022 that it was uninterested in an extension. Sarno told the News that when the YPBA later agreed to schedule bargaining dates for the successor agreement, the University responded with “several” dates starting in early February of 2023.
According to Hall, the so-called “catastrophic” proposal also involved a clause regarding workers’ compensation for job-related injuries, but he declined to go into specifics. Hall said that union members considered Yale’s initial wage increase offer included in that proposal to be “insultingly low.”
Hall expressed further qualms with the ongoing negotiations, including Yale’s choice to use negotiators who Hall alleges lacked “real decision-making authority.” These negotiators, Hall argued, caused a delay in bargaining and also were behind Yale’s initial choice to reject the same bargaining standards that were set in previous contract negotiations.
According to his statement, Sarno contacted Hall in late January 2023 to notify him that Dave Kelly, the University’s Associate Director of Labor Relations, would lead bargaining on the University’s side. Sarno said that Kelly has over 20 years of experience and meets regularly with University public safety officials, including Yale Police Department Chief Anthony Campbell. Sarno was the University’s previous representative who participated in the last contract negotiations with the union, and was also the associate director of labor relations at the time.
As for the bargaining standards issue Hall mentioned, Sarno claimed that it is common for negotiations to occur without parties agreeing on bargaining standards.
“With respect to ground rules, the university made a proposal, which the union rejected without making a counter,” Sarno wrote. “From there, the parties agreed to proceed without ground rules.”
At the start of negotiations, Yale did not commit to paying members of the union’s negotiating committee or agreeing to monthly contract extensions past the July 1 expiration date, according to Hall. Following more discussion and the prospect of collective “job action” by the union, Hall said Yale agreed to monthly contract extensions with full retroactivity for pay and benefits.
The last time around
The union hopes to win better paid time off benefits and healthcare co-shares. During the last contract negotiations in 2018, the YPBA agreed to pay small premium co-shares for two-person and family coverage under the traditionally premium-free Yale Health Plan in exchange for being exempt from the Health Expectations Program.
A part of other Yale unions’ contracts, the HEP requires workers and spouses to undergo medical testing such as mammograms, colonoscopies and diabetes screenings or pay an “opt-out” fee of $25 a week. Test results can then be shared with Yale wellness vendors, prompting privacy concerns from union organizers and employees.
Last February, union workers in UNITE HERE Locals 34 and 35 settled a class-action lawsuit with the University over the HEP, arguing that the $1,300 in annual opt-out fees imposed “financial penalties” on employees and violated their civil rights. In addition to Yale awarding workers checks of up to $1,300 as part of the settlement, the University also agreed to not charge opt-out fees. Becuase YPBA was not included in the settlement, Hall said that Yale police union members face disproportionate co-shares compared to other Yale union workers, which Hall said needs to be remedied in this round of negotiations.
The previous 2018 contract dispute lasted 28 months and involved over 70 negotiation sessions. Stalled by healthcare stipulations, such as the HEP and Yale’s proposal for officers to continue paying premium co-shares during retirement, the contract eventually secured higher wages, improved due process and procedural rights protections and premium-free retiree insurance.
The contract made YPBA members among the highest paid officers in the state, according to a statement released by Yale at the time. An attorney for the YPBA also characterized the contracts as “probably one of the best contracts at least in New England, if not the country.”
Yale community criticizes union negotiation tactics
Following the distribution of the union’s Grim Reaper-adorned flyers on Aug. 20, city and University officials, including Mayor Justin Elicker and Yale Police Chief Anthony Campbell, condemned the YPBA’s “fear mongering” language and imagery.
Hall told the News that any effect the flyering had on contract negotiations remains to be seen when the two parties return to the table next Wednesday. Members are broadly supportive of the flyers, according to Hall. He added that the University response inspired little to no discussion among officers.
“We stand ready to negotiate in earnest to attain a fair and equitable successor agreement for both parties,” said Hall. “And we eagerly await a similar commitment by the university.”
The YPBA’s practice of distributing flyers branding New Haven as a dangerous city is not new. The union has handed out leaflets, particularly to prospective or new students and their families, on at least five occasions during active contract negotiations.
Police unions often engage in “loud” and “provocative” action to attract attention and support to their cause, according to Policing, Law, and Policy Director of the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School Jorge Camacho.
“It’s a bit of a political theater, certainly, where they’ll take, again, these deliberately provocative positions, one that they may not even kind of genuinely hold, but one that they feel they have to hold in order to arrive at their ultimate political destination,” Camacho told the News.
Camacho said looking at YPBA’s past instances of flyering strongly indicates that the union’s recent flyering was a political stunt, one that he believes will create roadblocks during negotiations. Camacho said that community members are “less deferential” to officers than they were five years ago and further labeled the YPBA’s crime-emphasizing tactic as a “vestige” of a past era.
Meera Mishra ’26 witnessed the active distribution of the flyers to parents outside of Old Campus. As a leader for the University’s FOCUS On New Haven orientation program, which has new first-year students explore the relationship between Yale and New Haven. The program also has students discuss social activism and systems of oppression within New Haven. In the wake of the flyering, Mishra and her co-leader held a discussion with the first-year students about the union’s action.
“The general consensus between our FOCUS group was that they didn’t support [the flyers] and that they wanted to create a better relationship with New Haven,” said Mishra.
During previous contract negotiations, YPBA members lacked a long-term contract between June 2016 and Oct. 2018.