Profiles in Collaboration:
Yale Animal Resources Center
|Union Co-Chair:||Lisa Destefano|
|Management Co-Chair:||Hilary Vojteck|
JDC navigates the tricky waters of equitable scheduling
The Yale Animal Resources Center (YARC) is an example of a department that has involved union members and management to tackle a thorny problem and has achieved lower costs and improved efficiency as a result.
YARC is the facility that takes care of animal test subjects used in research conducted by faculty at Yale Medical School. YARC staff, including members of Local 34, feed the animals and keep the cages and rooms clean according to specific schedules and research protocols. It’s a very large and complicated operation involving dozens of employees, so managing schedules is challenging.
One problem YARC has had was that the tasks assigned to each person weren’t always equal. Over time, as positions were created or combined and individual staff were replaced, some positions ended up with larger workloads. That created tension among staff and between staff and managers, and it made it difficult to develop clear budgets. The University administration had pressured the department to make improvements in this area, and the union wanted to see a resolution that wasn’t punitive to its members.
YARC’s Joint Departmental Committee (JDC) got to work on this issue and ultimately came up with a solution called Process Metrics Scheduling. They got there by starting with the group of Clerical and Technical staffs who work on small rodent research animals. In the past, two staff members might have been assigned to take care of two different groups of cages without a clear sense of how much work was involved.
They surveyed those staff about how they actually spend their time and analyzed all the data to find out how much time a given task should take. They then re-adjusted work assignments and scheduling. The outcome was that managers now can design schedules that are more equal across staff and that clusters tasks more efficiently.
That sounds simple, but it took some time and it took a partnership between supervisors and front-line staff. According to Hilary Vojtek, Manager of Husbandry Services and co-chair of the JDC, management had tried something similar without success. Tension between union and management made it difficult to get good surveys that everyone was satisfied with and to implement scheduling changes.
“Without doing this through the JDC, we probably would have stopped months ago,” Vojtek said. “It’s been successful because we’re getting buy-in from everybody involved. We really needed that to get things to work and to move forward. Now, even though some people aren’t happy with the process, it’s still moving forward.”
Michelle Benevento, the other co-chair at that time, was a big part of getting that buy-in. (Michelle has since left the department. The current co-chair representing Local 34 is Lisa DeStefano.) “Management tried to enforce this one way of doing things and it didn’t work out,” Benevento said. “They were just unaware of what we did in our job. It was frustrating because we thought we had different ways about how to do the surveys to get good information. They were only getting a small picture and not really seeing the whole thing.”
When the JDC started to tackle the problem of studying schedules and making them more equitable, says Benevento, “What we did was a lot of communication with our staff members. Some of the responses people had at first were ‘We did this in the past, why should we do it again? How are they going to use it?’ We were able to say that it’s not going to be just management looking at it. It’s going to be union members. More or less it was a huge trust issue, and the JDC could help establish that trust.”
The progress the JDC made on this issue has had several benefits, according to the two co-chairs. Vojtek can develop clearer budgets and tell administration more precisely what her staffing needs are. Overtime costs are lower. When someone is out sick, there is less disruption to everyone else’s schedule, since that can be accommodated into the schedule more easily.
And, according to Vojtek, YARC is supporting better research since the investigators can get access to the animals more easily without disrupting the feeding and cleaning tasks, and staff can more easily keep the records necessary to comply with regulations.
But the biggest benefit to YARC has been in employee morale. It was important to many staff to have more equitable scheduling, and that has been achieved. And it was done in a way that got involved everyone concerned.
Last Updated: April 14, 2009 (kp).