Workers Demand Inclusion In Vision

The vision of making the University of Vermont the nation’s top environmental university has excited many people, the new buildings on planned will be at the cutting edge of environmentally friendly design. Yet, there are many who are not satisfied.

On Friday, February tenth, United Academics, the faculty union at UVM, along with students, staff members and construction workers held a rally in front of Waterman on South Prospect St. calling for the university to “Put People in the Vision” of UVM. Those involved in the rally were not specific in many of their demands. They did not limit their support to any one specific negotiation, in demonstration of solidarity among employees and students at UVM.

Max Berger, UVM freshman, and James Lovinsky, UVM Senior both spoke at the event. Berger said to the Cynic, “We are trying to raise community standards at UVM, to go beyond just environmental standards.” In a publication for the rally he posed the question, “How can administrators fund hefty salary increases for themselves, but then claim that in order to give secretaries or electricians a livable wage they would have to raise tuition?”

Both Berger and Lovinsky are involved with the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) where students show their support for the demands made by both union and non-union workers in the UVM community. Another speaker, Philip Fiermonte, Burlington Town Councilor and Outreach Director for Rep. Bernie Sanders’ Burlington Office, said of the event, “Its great to see UVM students supporting faculty, staff, and members of the greater community.”

This issue is not new. In December of 2004 a petition was presented to the UVM Board of Trustees asking them to sign a Project Labor Agreement (PLA), but this has yet to be done. In November of 2004 Bryant Jones vetoed an SGA resolution that would have called on the Board to sign the PLA. Jones claimed veto was not in opposition to such a resolution, only that there was not enough information available at the time to make an accurate position. Lance Moran, President of Vermont Building Trades said of PLAs, “PLAs ensure high standards of quality at responsible costs that include livable wages for workers who would build the universities infrastructure.”

Dave Kaczynski, another speaker at the rally and a Vermont Iron Worker, said of the benefits of giving all workers livable wages: “This a free market economy, and in a free market economy those employers who pay the best and give the best benefits will have the best workers.” He went on to say that in many jobs that run over schedule and over budget, partial blame is the high rate of turn over that is many times associated with underpaying workers. Frank Sacchetti, a UVM Junior, said of the “Putting People Back in the Vision” campaign and PLAs in general, “I agree with the basic premises of livable wages and PLAs for construction jobs, but I don’t think they will be accepted by the Board of Trustees when the unions and other advocates aren’t presenting specific numbers on what the increased costs will be.”

PLAs and livable wages are not the only concern of the unions and other non-union workers. According to Kaczynski, putting “People Back into the Vision” also requires the university to deal with Vermont contractors rather than bringing in construction firm from New York and Boston. Kaczynski gave the example of a large contract for the new student commons going to a Boston based contractor William Barre, rather than a Vermont contractor.