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THE FAILURE of the Yale university administration to accept non-binding arbitration as a means of settling the seven week old strike by Yale's dining hall and maintenance workers demonstrates the administration's lack of concern for the workers and students affected by the strike, and a lack of faith in its own bargaining position.
The union, Local 35 of the Federation of University Employees, is asking for a one year contract with an eight per cent wage increase, and has said it is willing to negotiate on this and other positions. University officials, however, have said repeatedly that their offer--of partial cost of living increases over three years--is final and not negotiable. The current wage rates, which start at $4.41 an hour, do not need to be changed, administrators say, because they are equal to or are above the wages paid for similar work in the New Haven area and at colleges throughout the Northeast.
For a majority of Yale workers, however, the most important issue of the strike is not the wage rate, but the security of their jobs and of their union. Since 1971, Yale has eliminated 400 full-time blue-collar positions, and replaced them with part-time workers, including students on financial aid. All of these workers receive union wages, but the large number who work less than 20 hours a week do not get fringe benefits, such as paid vacation time and health care. Yale officials say that such changes are necessary in order to provide better and more efficient service; but because of the job reductions, union members are working fewer hours, with fewer benefits. Of Local 35's 1400 members, over 600 are now part-time workers who, without a full-time stake in the union, are less likely to support its demands. Although the university's aim may be simply to save money, the result is union-busting.
Yale administrators claim that because of a $6 million deficit last year, the university cannot afford to pay more to its workers in benefits and wages. But that deficit, which came--surprisingly--after Yale's endowment rose nearly 10 per cent in fiscal 1976, was caused largely by temporary circumstances, such as a rise in fuel costs during last year's unusually cold winter. And although the university has fostered a sense of financial "crisis" by instituting a hiring freeze, much of that crisis was actually created by a corporate decision last month to limit the amount of endowment income used for general expenses.
The current strike is the fourth at Yale since 1968, when student workers broke the first walkout after six days. In 1971 the strike lasted seven weeks, and three years ago Local 35 was out for ten weeks. There must be some compromise, before this year's strike drags on any longer. For the workers, living on a $30 a week union allowance, the weeks ahead and the upcoming holiday season leave little to be thankful for. For the students, more weeks of the strike mean more discomfort and disruption of their educations. Sen. George McGovern (D.S.D.) and Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall have acted wisely in cancelling speeches at Yale recently, to avoid crossing union picket lines; that students were unable to hear them is the fault of the unyielding Yale administration.
Union leaders have offered either to resume talks with Federal and Connecticut state mediators, or to submit the impasse to some sort of arbitration. It is up to the university to act toward settling the dispute by accepting one of these two choices. But until it does, the next move must belong to Yale students and faculty members, 2400 of whom have signed a petition demanding non-binding arbitration.
It is deplorable that a few students opposing the strike have attempted to provoke violence by marching through picket lines while wearing T-shirts emblazoned "Break the Strike." But their irresponsible actions can only reflect well on those students who support Local 35. More harmful, though, is the attitude of the Yale Corporation, which must in the end decide what the administration will do. In its dismal record of employee relations over the last nine years, Yale has set a poor example for other colleges and universities, many of which will be facing serious financial problems in the near future. The strike has lasted long enough, it is time for arbitration.
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