On Sept. 18 and 19, a historic election will take place at UVM. Half of the Universitys staff between 780 and 1,600 staff members will vote yes or no to form a union.
This is the largest union organizing campaign to take place in Vermont in many years. Whats more, it is one of the largest union elections taking place in the country this year. If things go well, the 800 members of the staff will have their chance to vote for a union next year.
University Staff Union in affiliation with the NEA, the states largest union, has worked for more than two years to bring an election to staff. On Sept. 18 and 19 if staff vote yes for the union and yes for USU-NEA, the entire University will benefit, including students.
Students deal with the staff every day. We are the people you go to with questions about your financial aid. We are the folks who manage the book collections at Bailey/Howe Library. We are the clerk who runs the cash register at the book store. We are the residence hall directors and the administrative assistants in your professors departments. If you work at the University, your supervisor is most likely a staff member.
The staff is the only group of employees on campus who arent unionized. Professors are unionized. Police are unionized. Custodians and maintenance employees are unionized. UVM staff are the only remaining at will employees of the University. We can be fired at any time, and our working conditions and benefits can be changed abruptly and without our input. We cannot negotiate our working conditions, we have them imposed on us.
For most of us, UVM is a good place to work. But good working conditions are not a guarantee. Just ask the staff member who worked at UVM for more than 25 years and was let go only months before she could retire. Ask the UVM staffer who fears for his job because his supervisor is demanding and unreasonable. Their stories are not exceptional.
Staffers who feel powerless cannot do their best for you. Staffers who have no say in their working conditions, wont be able to stick their necks out for you. They keep quiet and they dont take chances.
But what about rising tuition?, you might say. To keep tuition low doesnt the University need to cut benefits, salaries, and positions? These are hard financial times. dont budgets need to be trimmed?, you might ask.
Recent events make it clear that UVMs budget problems are not due to a lack of money, but because the money is appallingly mismanaged. Last year UVM executives hired a new business dean and his spouse for salary and benefits of more than $800,000 a year.
Englesby House, the UVM presidents mansion, is in the midst of more than a million dollars of renovations. Last year, as Daniel Fogel left the presidency in disgrace, he was presented with a $600,000 farewell check and a cushy faculty job in the English Department with a starting salary of $185,000 a year. The incoming president Thomas Sullivan had a cadre of lawyers and advisors to help him negotiate a starting salary of $417,000.
Staff salaries and benefits are not the reason for rising tuition. The problem is a proliferation of University executives and former administrators with exorbitant salaries and bonuses who line their pockets with your tuition money. What we are seeing at UVM is the corporatization of the University.
Staff members want the same opportunity as Fogel and Sullivan were given to negotiate our salaries, benefits and working conditions. Every other UVM employee was given this right of collective bargaining faculty, police, maintenance personnel and custodians, all except for staff.
If staff members have a seat at the table when their salaries, benefits and working conditions are being discussed, they will be able to do a better job for you. We will be able to collaborate with University administrators to strengthen our contribution to the University and make UVM a better place to work and a better place to go to school.
Michele Patenaude works at the Bailey-Howe Library and has been a UVM staff employee for six years. She is on the leadership team of University Staff Union-NEA.