How anti-union is Yale? Yale University this year has provoked its eighth strike since 1968. It's hard to think of ANY major employer in the country that has provoked eight strikes in 35 years. Despite media images, most union contracts are settled without a strike, yet Yale seems incapable of recognizing any union or signing any contract without subjecting the workers, the students and the whole New Haven community to a strike.
The most recent strike happened the week of March 2 when 4000 Yale University workers walked off the job for the week in protest of Yale's refusal to negotiate a new contract for existing workers and its refusal to recognize the union formed among graduate student teachers and at Yale-New Haven hospital. And Yale has still refused to sign a contract or recognize the new unions as workers have turned to other means of pressure on the University.
Speaking to a New York Times reporter, Ron Altieri, an electrician at the university for 27 years, described why Yale has such harsh anti-union attitudes:
"They're such an elitist institution," he said. "They just look down at the workers. They can't come to terms with looking at their unions as an equal."
The maintenance and cafeteria workers union (Local 34) and clerical workers union (Local 35) had to go through painful strikes to even be recognized and get a first contract with Yale. Now Yale, is shocked, shocked, that those unions are trying to act in solidarity with graduate student teachers and Yale hospital workers who are trying to organize:
"The strike is a way of demonstrating that these four unions are all pursuing an agenda -- an organizing agenda," [Yale President] Levin said. "I believe we could reconcile our differences with Locals 34 and 35 relatively easily if they decoupled the organizing issues from the issues of the contracts."
Sure -- sell out your fellow Yale workers and we'll give you something, says the Yale president.
Where does this kind of unenlightened attitude come from? Well, part of it is supported by the Yale Law School whose dean, Anthony Kronman, in the words of a Chronicle of Higher Education article, is "the poster child of unenlightened administrators" with his published assaults on the very idea of unionization, especially for graduate students but apparently for most professional workers of any kind. Dean Kronman published an editorial in the New York Times that essentially argued that unions are about producing mindless automatons, where individual achievement was impossible and where membership was incompatible with having "distinctive views and voices."
When the top legal advisor on campus has such a repugnant viewpoint on workers rights, it's hardly surprising that the university feels license to defy the community and the law.
Finishing a law degree at Yale at the time, I was personally outraged at Kronman's comments, but it really just reflects the pervasive disdain many in the educated class have for the privileges on which their "distinctive views and voice" is built, and why unions are required to even get most workers even basic freedom of speech in the workplace.
Or maybe many of the academic elite at places like Yale do realize it and just want to restrict the privileges of speech and voice in society to those with credentialed degrees and high status.
This is confirmed by a study by Restructuring Associates Inc., a firm that Yale President Levin and the unions jointly hired to study labor relations on campus. In the finished report, RAI noted:
"Employees describe what they perceive as a caste system at Yale. Those not directly involved in intellectual or pedagogical pursuits feel consigned to an underclass Employees have almost no input into discussions and decisions that directly affect their work."
And it's clear that administrators at Yale are rankled by having to descend from their cloistered meetings with scholars, presidents and corporate CEOs to actually meet with their servants as equals in collective bargaining.
But unions are about solidarity. If Levin won't recognize the power of his own workers, he's now being confronted with that of the whole national union leadership, with visits to New Haven by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney pledging the full support of unions across the country. He described New Haven as a "community that struggles as a sea of poverty and joblessness and injustice surrounding an island of selfishness and plenty" governed by the Yale elite.
The AFL-CIO is mobilizing people across the country to help pressure Yale to settle with existing union members and recognize the graduate student and hospital workers unions. A simple step anyone can take is to write letters to Yale at the online action center: See www.unionvoice.org/campaign/levin_settle/.
Help bring the Yale leadership down from their academic cloisters to the reality of labor solidarity.
Nathan Newman is a labor lawyer, longtime community activist and author of the just published book Net Loss [Penn State Press] on Internet policy and economic inequality. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.nathannewman.org.