Jobs With Justice

Over the next ten years the University of Vermont will undergo many exciting changes, the most obvious of these coming in the form of large construction projects. The centerpiece and new entrance to the University will be a $70 million student center scheduled for completion in the fall of 2007. This student center will be constructed under the strictest environmental standards and that reflect UVM’s commitment to environmental sustainability and technological innovation.

According to President Fogel’s official welcome to UVM students, “The University has a living commitment to the ethical foundations of democracy and to values long associated with the state of Vermont: fairness, social justice, environmental stewardship, openness, independence, lack of pretense and the achievement of practical results.” The new construction projects on campus obviously uphold the University’s commitment to environmental stewardship, but what about fairness, social justice and the ethical foundations of democracy?

In order to maintain the University’s central values of fairness and social justice we must ensure that the workers who are literally building the future of our university are guaranteed just and equitable wages, safe working conditions and sustainable health and pension benefits. In order to do this the university should require its socially responsible contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA) before construction begins on these huge new projects. The primary goals of a PLA are to ensure that all workers are paid fairly and provided safe working conditions.

Opponents of PLA’s argue that they drive up costs, hurt taxpayers and are unfair to workers because they require them to join unions. PLA’s can save money by dramatically reducing the risk of delay and cost overruns due to labor disputes by ensuring an open flow of communication among all parties involved in the project. PLA’s do not necessarily require workers to join unions, therefore union and non-union workers can work side by side. By requiring contractors to provide their employees with fair and equitable wages and benefits the University will actually help to reduce the tax burden on Vermonters because workers will not have to enroll in social welfare programs.

Currently many construction workers are forced to export themselves to other states in search of family sustaining wages. In a recent public forum at the Memorial Auditorium Annex local construction workers talked about leaving Vermont every week to work in Boston in order to earn enough to support their families.

When these men and women are forced to work outside of Vermont, and their income and expertise are leaving our community. A PLA would keep money in the local economy and would help Vermonters stay in Vermont. Local organizers recently collected more than 700 student signatures and over 500 signatures from staff members, faculty and community members in support of a proposal that would require contractors working for the University to sign Project Labor Agreements before they begin construction.

Furthermore, as our UVM Common Ground states: “We want to be at the forefront of change… and break new ground in addressing important community and societal needs.” UVM should take the high road and be the catalyst for economic and social change that it claims to be. As students, we have a responsibility to the UVM community, the city of Burlington and the state of Vermont to support the people who make our educations possible. Please join us in front of Waterman on Saturday, November 13th at 11am and be a voice for sustainability and equality.