A New New Haven

Yale's new eight-year contract should improve historically troubled relations with labor

After many breathless months of stalled negotiations and strikes, the pact reached last Thursday by Yale and two striking labor unions will provide long overdue relief to a campus divided. The contract will give clerical, maintenance and dining hall workers generous raises over its eight year span—retroactive to the time the last contract expired—as well as increase pension payments for the workers.

The agreement ends a three-week strike by the workers, who have been employed without a contract since January 2002. Along with the inconvenience of closed dining halls and curtailed student services, the standoff put Yale students in the awkward situation of having to cross picket lines to get to class. Hopefully the contract will prevent any recurrence of such turmoil in the near future.

Under the agreement, the clerical workers will receive pay increases adding up to 44 percent over the next eight years, according to The New York Times. The provisions for the maintenance and dining hall workers are somewhat smaller, raising their wages by 32 percent over the next eight years. The increases will bring the Yale workers’ wages closer in line with their counterparts at Harvard and elsewhere, and will boost the wages of custodial workers significantly ahead of Harvard’s rates.

Schools must recognize the integral role played by its support staff. A university could no better perform its role without such support staff than without professors or students. Yale’s workers have earned the right to a decent living standard and a comfortable retirement. The contract makes sure they receive what they deserve.

This agreement does not mean that Yale’s labor woes are ended. One hundred forty dietary workers from Yale-New Haven Hospital are still without a contract. Yale needs to extend the same kind of generous contract agreement to these workers, and it needs to do so promptly. Yale president Richard C. Levin could use his influence to greatly expedite the process and get the dietary workers back on the job.

Furthermore, this contract should not tie the workers hands for the next eight years. Union leaders should still be free to bring their worries and needs to the attention of the university, which should respond to them appropriately. The practice of open communication and cooperation is preferable to the tactics of coercion that have predominated in this round of negotiations.

It is perhaps most unfortunate that this dispute had to reach the pitch of anger and conflict that it did. Contracts are best hammered out in conference rooms, not picket lines. Both sides must realize that this is no kind of way to handle labor negotiations, and this fight should be studied to understand how to avoid future strikes at Yale.

According to the Times, Yale’s workers have gone on strike nine times in the last 35 years, more than any other university. This fact would points to a systematic deficiency in Yale’s methods of dealing with labor. For the sake of all involved, Yale has to communicate more effectively with its workers. Otherwise, Yale will just be six an a half short years away from its next quagmire.