Staff push back

A group of UVM staff members is mobilizing to form an independent union called ‘United Staff’ that would allow them to engage in collective bargaining of employment contracts.

Because staff members are currently not part of a union, they do not have a mechanism by which to negotiate the terms of their employment, said Sarah Goodrich, union organizer and plant biology department communications coordinator.

“It’s considered at-will employment, Goodrich said. “They [administrative officials] determine what the terms of our employment will be, and we just have to sign on the line or not.

Workers were made aware of this disadvantage when the administration announced wages for fiscal year 2012, she said.

“The administration had to sort of back track; at first they said, ‘everybody’s going to get 0% next year,’ and then the next day they had to come back and say ‘well actually, we’re going to have to do contract negotiations, of course, with those who are unionized,’ which really left the unrepresented staff as the only group on campus who was going to get a 0% raise,” Goodrich said.

Although interest among workers in a Union has been slowly growing for several years, recent administrative actions have solidified and significantly expanded the base of support, she said.

“There has been more staff support every month that goes back, every day really,” Goodrich said.  “We’re not like knocking down doors trying to get people to sign on. People are calling us and saying,  ‘can I sign a card?'”

Staff support for a union not only stems from a belief that staff deserves a raise, but also from the thought that funds have been seriously misallocated, she said.

“Just the amount that President Fogel is getting for his 17 month leave of absence, that would fund a 1% raise for the entire unrepresented staff, all 1,500 of us, for one year,” Goodrich said.

“It’s the way that they misrepresent the big picture that’s really getting to the point of being very frustrating,” a staffer who preferred to remain anonymous said.  “Money has been spent. A lot of money has been spent. You can’t say that we [the administration] have no money to give you [the unrepresented staff]. ”

In order to legally form the Union, organizers must collect signatures in support of the move from 30% of staff members, a goal that they are working towards now. With staff numbers at about 1,500, they need 450 signatures, Goodrich said.

Once they get the signatures, they need to send them to the Vermont Labor board to verify their authenticity, and then an election will be set up.

“When we get 50% plus one at least of the people that show up to vote, then we have a union,” Goodrich said.