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March 06, 2003

Anti-Union Yale

How anti-union is Yale?

Yale University is being rocked by its eighth strike since 1968, and Ron Altieri, an electrician at the university for 27 years, spoke for many workers when he sought to explain Yale's unusually rancorous labor history.

"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."

It's hard to think of ANY major employer in the country that has provoked eight strikes in thirty-five 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.

Read the article above. The present maintenance 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 they 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. He published an editorial in the NY 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."

I was personally outraged at the time, but it really just reflects the pervasive disdain the educated 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 they do realize it and just want to restrict the privileges of speech and voice in society to those with credentialled degrees and high status. What is clear is 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.

Update: Want to help? Check out http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/levin_settle to send an email to Yale's President. (Thanks Scott).

Posted by Nathan at March 6, 2003 07:52 AM

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I agree wholeheartedly with your disdain for Dean Kronman and his ilk. But please be careful with that broad brush. 'The educated' also happen to be organizers (like many of my friends), labor historians (like my husband), supporters (many many profs support organization work and union activity, at Yale and elsewhere), etc.

It's not entirely a matter of education. After all, the unionized graduate students for whom these other unions are showing solidarity are products of that very same education.

You also should be careful how much you read into this. The quote reeks of elitism absolutely, but it's also to the Yale Administration's 'benefit' to detract from unionization by whatever means their bully pulpit affords, including disinformation. Other exciting tactics include strongarming, packing sympathizers into campus newspaper editorial positions, intimidating foreign students and employees, and the list goes on.

Posted by: Ruth at March 6, 2003 01:04 PM

Can we nail this down? How many U.S. employers are there who have had as many strikes as Yale in the last thirty years? Anybody know?

Posted by: Josh at March 6, 2003 01:53 PM

It would be a great help for people to go to http://www.unionvoice.org/campaign/levin_settle
and send an email to all the people on the page.
Thanks, Nathan, for your post. As far as the graduate students' campaign, we are striking for an election where ballots are cast _and_ counted and the results abided by. The second two parts being novel concepts, apparently, for the Yale administration.

Posted by: scott at March 7, 2003 07:40 AM

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