Staff Union contract remains in negotiation

UVM’s staff union failed to come to an agreement with UVM administration on the first union contract at an April 8 meeting, said Annie Valentine, UVM Staff United bargaining team member. 

Negotiations on the first UVMSU contract began in October 2021, and after 10 meetings an agreement has yet to be reached, Valentine said.  When staff unionized this past summer, they prioritized livable wages for all staff, said Ellen Kaye, bargaining team member and cataloger at Howe Library.

“[Staff members] are on food assistance,” Kaye said. “[They] have to decide between which bills they’re going to pay […] people are stuck in the same position for decades at UVM.” 

UVMSU brought their wage proposal to the bargaining table Dec. 17, 2021, and the administration came back with their counterproposal March 16, Kaye said. 

“We brought the wages [to the table] and then they came back three months later and countered with something that wasn’t even acknowledging the concepts that we have,” Kaye said.

A liveable wage differs depending on where an individual lives – it’s a wage that allows a worker to meet their basic needs, according to a June 5, 2019 New York Times article. 

Along with livable wages, UVMSU hopes its first contract will ensure flexibility in scheduling to help staff members maintain a healthier work-life balance. The proposed contract also focuses on improving and adding staff benefits, according to their website.

“I think we are just eons apart from getting to a place where you compromise and you work with people, and it just doesn’t feel like we’re being heard,” Valentine said. 

Valentine works in education and training in the Center for Health and Wellbeing and began working for UVM 18 years ago. Due to confusion around the University’s pay bands and the reclassification system for staff, her career path is still unclear to her, Valentine said. 

UVM’s pay band system refers to the maximum amount of money a staff member can make depending on the position they hold at the University, Kaye said. The pay band is non-negotiable upon a staff member’s hiring. 

“The pay band in my job goes from $39,000 to $71,000,” Kaye said. “Nobody’s seen anywhere near $71,000.”

Within UVM’s Career/Pay System, jobs are categorized into job series based on the nature of the work, according to UVM’s HR Services webpage.

“Within each series, job standards may be part of a formal or informal career progression. Each job standard has a broad, market-based pay band that accommodates the complex work environment of the University,” the webpage stated.  

UVM staff members do not have a clear raise schedule. They have not received a raise in two years while the cost of living steadily increases, Kaye said. 

The cost of living in Chittenden County is 21.3% higher than the national average, according to Living costs rose 1.6% from last year.

“It doesn’t feel like [the administration is] prioritizing what we believe are our biggest priorities,” Valentine said. “We need to have better wages to be able to live here.”

UVM can’t fill many of the open staff positions because the salaries are too low for potential candidates, Valentine said.

“We continue to negotiate in good faith with UVMSU,” stated UVM Spokesperson Enrique Corredera in an April 5 email. “UVMSU and UVM agreed through ground rules that our negotiations should be private. We respect that agreement, and will not comment on the details of negotiations at this time.” 

UVMSU and UVM administration will have another bargaining session April 13. UVMSU will hold a press conference outside of Waterman starting at 10 a.m. April 11, and three Vermont legislators will speak. They will also hold a rally at noon April 15 outside Howe Library, Valentine said. 

The April 15 rally will give the UVM community another opportunity to put pressure on the administration, Sharp said. The Union wants students, staff, faculty and community members to show up and show strength in numbers to push for a fair contract, Valentine said.

UVMSU started a petition calling on UVM President Suresh Garimella to provide livable wages for UVM staff which has amassed 1,809 signatures as of April 10. Valentine plans to present the petition to  Garimella during the rally, she said. 

Corredera did not disclose the names of the individuals on the administration bargaining team, according to an April 7 email.