5,000 Yale Workers Plan to Go on Strike
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
New York Times
March 1, 2003
Nearly 5,000 workers at Yale University, including janitors, cafeteria workers, secretaries and graduate teaching assistants, plan to go on strike on Monday. It would be the seventh walkout at Yale in 35 years, leading labor experts to say that Yale has the worst record of labor strife of any school in the nation.
Union officials say the strike will involve more groups of workers than any previous walkout at a university. It will include a union representing 2,900 clerical workers and one with 1,200 technical and service workers, both of which have been without a contract for 13 months.
The strike will also involve the Graduate Employee Student Organization, a group of more than 1,000 graduate teaching and research assistants who are seeking union recognition. In addition, 150 food workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital, which Yale officials say is independent of the university, will walk out. They have been without a contract for two years.
Both sides agreed that there was little chance of averting the strike, which is scheduled to last five days. "I'd say there's a 99 percent chance that we're going to pull everybody out," said Robert Proto, president of the union representing the clerical and service workers, which staged a one-month strike in 1996, during the last round of negotiations.
Helaine Klasky, a Yale spokeswoman, predicted that the strike's impact would be minimal. The strike will close student dining halls and leave dormitory bathrooms uncleaned. Students will receive rebates on room and board to pay for meals at local restaurants. Some professors, wanting to honor the picket line, have decided to move their classes off campus.
Anita Seth, chairwoman of the graduate employees' group, said the strike would force cancellation of many classes taught by graduate students. Her group wants Yale to agree to a polling procedure that could result in union recognition for graduate students like their counterparts at New York University.
But Yale's president, Richard C. Levin, has resisted granting them union recognition. In the past, Yale officials argued that graduate teaching assistants were students, who were not entitled to unionize under federal law, rather than employees, who had the right to unionize.
"President Levin is not recognizing the democratic rights that graduate students have to bargain collectively," Ms. Seth said.
Yale and other private universities are waiting to see whether the new National Labor Relations Board appointed by President Bush, in a case involving Brown and Columbia, reverses a 28-month-old ruling and declares that graduate teaching assistants are students, not employees.
It is unclear what percentage of employees will strike, but union leaders expressed confidence that a high percentage would.
The university has offered its clerical union raises of more than 4 percent a year over six years and its technical union more than 3 percent a year — amounts that school officials say are generous considering the weak economy. University officials accuse the clerical and technical unions of rejecting these proposals to pressure Yale to agree to procedures that would make it easier for the graduate students and 1,800 workers at Yale-New Haven Hospital to unionize.
"We have reached this point because the union leadership has made a strategic decision that the unionizing efforts were more important than settling a contract," Ms. Klasky said. "These workers could have already received raises and increased pensions, but now they're still without a contract. It's quite unfortunate for the rank and file."
Union officials denied the university's assertion. They insisted that management's offer was inadequate because Yale's workers were paid so little. Yale said its clerical workers earned $33,717 a year on average and its technical and service workers $30,342.
Union officials said the main issue was pensions, with many workers retiring after 30 years with pensions of less than $800 a month. "A pension of that level leaves people a choice of not retiring or of retiring in poverty," Mr. Proto said.
University officials said that Yale had offered to raise pensions at least 11 percent a year, and that when Social Security was added in, workers who retired after 30 years received retirement income exceeding 80 percent of their after-tax work income. "Yale has made generous offers on wages and pensions," Ms. Klasky said, "on top of their already generous benefit package."
The labor movement hopes to bring widespread attention to the Yale dispute. The Rev. Jesse Jackson, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.'s president, John J. Sweeney and several prominent politicians have been invited to demonstrate with the Yale workers.