Yale strike could send ripple through higher learning

Striking clerical and technical workers at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., are still picketing six weeks after walking off jobs Oct. 9. The strikers are seeking a first union contract that would address ''fairness'' in how much Yale pays women. The primary issue is the charge that Yale has discriminated against women in its wage policies. Yale officials deny the charge.

Although many picketers are suffering financial hardship from loss of pay, strike lines still appear firm.

The AFL-CIO's president, Lane Kirkland, said the strike by a university employee's local of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees, was a fight ''with moral urgency'' that will have effects ''in workplaces all across this land.''

Mr. Kirkland told a labor rally, ''Your strike is not just about better wages , it is about a system that has for too long denied female and black workers equal pay for equal work.''

The AFL-CIO and its unions are making equal pay for comparable work a national issue in bargaining, particularly in government employment and in educational fields. According to Kirkland, university administrators at Yale and elsewhere want labor to deal with their institutions differently fromprivate corporations.

''University presidents typically urge us to take a responsible and long view of things. But they show us that they can be as narrow-minded and obsessed with the bottom cost line as any president of a corporation,'' Mr. Kirkland said.

The union's chief contract negotiator, John Wilhelm, a Yale graduate, says the ivy league school ''has taken advantage of a societal tendency to underpay women and minorities, and we are asking them to change that.''

David Montgomery, a labor historian at Yale, says the historic implications of the strike for institutions of higher learning are large. ''It's settling into a real test of force,'' he says.

The Yale local represents secretaries, telephone operators, computer programmers, other clerical and technical workers and dining hall personnel. More than 80 percent are women, and 17 percent are members of minority groups, according to the union.

Average annual pay is $13,473. The union says this figure is less than comparable work by men. The strikers want a contract that includes a new wage policy with regular increases based on years on the job.

In addition, the contract must contain quarterly cost-of-living adjustments amounting to 50 percent of rises in the government's Consumer Price Index and pay increases totaling 29 percent over the next three years. Yale estimates the cost of the union demands would be a 49.2 percent increase over current wages during the period.

The university has offered increases of 24.2 percent over current wages over three years. The union says the Yale offer amounts to over 18 percent. There haven't been serious negotiations since Oct. 9.

Strikers have received some emergency aid from their union and other labor groups, largely to cover costs of rent and mortgage payments and medical care. Many have found part-time jobs in a community that is largely supportive.

But with holidays ahead, many strikers are worried about a dispute that seems to be showing no progress toward an end.

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