Yale Negotiations Slow; Strike Looms

Ten-week-old contract negotiations between Yale and its twin worker unions have yielded no agreements on salaries or other major issues, and if coming sessions don't prove more fruitful than recent ones, the university could soon face a strike.

Because the two sides still do not concur on the order in which they should discuss a wide range of issues. including salaries, benefits and job classification. Wednesday's negotiation meeting lasted only nine minutes, said clerical workers union President Lucille A. Dickess.

"People are ready to do it," said Steve S. Fortes, the vice president of the clerical union, referring to a possible strike.

"We remain dedicated to avoiding a strike. On the other hand, we cannot have peace at any price," Yale University Secretary Sheila W. Wellington said.

The contracts of the 3600 clerical and maintenance unions, AFL-CIO locals 34 and 35, are due to expire on January 16.

Union leaders will meet with members January 12 to formulate a "final proposal" for negotiations, Fortes said. The unions may also decide to authorize a strike vote or choose to extend the negotiating period for a week after the contract's expiration, Dickess said.

"We know that [a strike] is one of many tools we have to use to pressure the university," Dickess said.

Yale has not offered any counterproposals to the unions' economic proposals for increased pay and benefits since negotiations began.

University officials have said that specific monetary issues cannot be resolved until both sides have agreed on a new job classification system, because classifications affect the salaries workers receive. But the unions view this stance as "obstructionist," Fortes said.

The university is "presently evaluating the situation, and we'll review our options and come to a decision about what we're going to do within a day," said Wellington yesterday of a possible new university stance.

Despite the unions' objections to discussing classification without including other economic issues, possible reforms of the job classification system have been the primary focus of negotiations, union and university representatives said.

The unions have stated that under the current system two workers with similar jobs in different departments often have different work classifications and thus widely varying salaries, Fortes said.

In order to ensure that workers are paid the same amount for the same work, the unions also want to reduce the number of job categories, he said.

The job classification system tends to discriminate against minorities and women, a recent union study found.

According to the study, a Black woman with the same education, experience and job responsibilities as a white male is paid on average $2000 less, Dickess said.

"We have women and minorities here who are kept down and subsequently underpaid" because of the job classification system, Dickess said.

But Wellington said that Yale has "provided an analysis for the community of our affirmative action policy which we feel discredits [the discrimination] charge." However, university officials have said that they agree that the classification system should be reformed.

The unions' economic proposals, which have been on the table for several weeks, call for 7 percent across-the-board salary increases for each of the next three years, university-subsidized daycare for employees' children, paid maternity leave, increased monitoring of health and safety issues, and improvement of mental and dental insurance, Fortes said.

If Yale were to accept the unions' proposal, the university's labor expenditures would increase by 91 percent over the next three years, Wellington said.

But union officials said that the university's numbers are inflated. "To place a cost item on [union economic proposals] is very misleading and not accurate," Dickess said.

"There are areas of agreement. They happen to be in an area that could be called window-dressing," Dickess said.

Both sides have agreed to insert a clause into the contract prohibiting discrimination against employees on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation, Fortes said.