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Yale Is Bracing for Walk-Out by Clerical Unions

By Valerie J. Macmillan

As if almost having their fall semester grades withheld wasn't bad enough, Yale students may face suffering at the hands of striking employees again next week if the university and more than 3,000 of its clerical, technical, service and maintenance workers cannot reach a labor agreement by January 29.

And if temporary workers cannot or will not cross the unions' picket lines, Yale's physical plant may fall into disrepair as bathrooms go uncleaned and paths unshoveled.

The strike authorization vote taken last week was overwhelming, with more than 85 percent of the members of Local unions 34 and 35 endorsing the walk-out should negotiations this week fail, union spokesperson Deborah Chernoff said yesterday.

"We [need to] actually have negotiations as opposed to sitting in a room and being told the university has nothing new for us," Chernoff said. "We understand it's a give and take, but right now the University is not giving us anything."

Yale University has requested federal mediators to participate in negotiations, according to a statement released Monday.

"We respect the right of workers to strike, but we are increasingly concerned that the pace and direction of the negotiations could result in an avoidable strike," said Joseph Mullinix, vice president of finance and administration, in the statement.

"When talks began more than two months ago, the unions put a total of 170 demands on the table. As of today, with the exception of 10 demands which the university accepted or accepted with modifications, none of the unions' original demands have been withdrawn or modified," Mullinix said.

"Good faith bargaining requires that the parties work together cooperatively to find common ground. Unfortunately, that hasn't been happening," he added.

Chernoff said union members remain disappointed with plans that include what he called low pensions for retirees coupled with increasingly expensive retiree health benefits.

The union has proposed a wage increase and objected to the creation of a two-tier wage system in some departments.

"Under the current circumstances, it looks like the university's strategy is to wait to the last minute...and hope people will be nervous enough about going on strike that they'll accept [the university's proposed plan]," Chernoff said.

She said the union would not accept a package under those circumstances.

Yale said its "objective in bargaining has been to contain the growing costs of its generous benefits programs, to improve management flexibility to provide better services at more competitive costs."

Yale says it also offered guaranteed wages and employment to service and maintenance workers in exchange for Yale's maintaining the right to sub-contract.

The most contentions issue in contract negotiation at Harvard recently has been benefits. Chernoff said this is not true at Yale.

"It's...not as great an issue as it was during the last Harvard negotiation," she said. "This is an area where we are actually making progress."

"It's mainly the retiree health insurance we're concerned about."

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