UVM staff deserves a union

As a UVM staff person for the last six years, I have grown more and more concerned over my job, my benefits and my working conditions. Most of my colleagues share those concerns. That is why I believe the staff at UVM needs a union. There are about 1,500 of us, and yet the University does not need to treat us with fairness or respect, or even ask for our feedback.  We are the largest employee group on campus, but because we are not represented by a union, we have no rights except those provided by federal and state law. Like most other staff, my salary remains stagnant and my benefits cost more each year. The administration threatens us with the cutting or elimination of tuition remission — the reason many staff work at UVM despite low salaries. Some staff members have even had their jobs cut after decades of loyal service at the University mere months before retirement.  UVM executives say budget problems are the reason staff are undercompensated. But recent events make it clear that UVM’s budget problems are not due to a lack of money, but because the money is appallingly mismanaged. Earlier this year, the University-approved Staff Council recommended a modest one-time, $1,000 raise for staff members. The University immediately said “No, nothing!” At the same time, they hired a new business dean and his spouse for salary and benefits of more than $800,000 a year. President Fogel was given $600,000 as he walked out the door, while another door opened for him in the English Department with a $185,000 a year faculty job complete with a $7000 office makeover and a $700 chair. Recently, it was announced that improvements to Englesby House, the UVM president’s residence, will cost up to $2 million. What the University is saying is “Yes, we have the money — but not for staff.” What we are seeing at UVM is the “corporatization” of the University. While the vice presidents and other university executives grow in number and their salaries and bonuses continue to increase, the staff grows smaller, our work grows larger, our salaries go down and we pay more for our benefits. For all these reasons, I have joined the USU (University Staff Union) effort here on campus. Together with a growing number of other staff members, we are laying the essential groundwork to build a strong and sustainable staff union. We have chosen to affiliate with the Vermont NEA (National Education Association), the largest and strongest union in Vermont. The NEA is providing us with resources, know-how, legal assistance and staff to support and guide us through the union process. Electing a union is only the first step. After we reach that goal, we need to bargain a contract and set up a solid infrastructure. This is another reason that affiliation with the NEA makes good sense. They can support us in these undertakings. To protect our jobs and our benefits, we need a strong staff union at UVM. Michele Patenaude is a staff member at the Bailey-Howe Library.