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University of Vermont
Workers Vote UE

BURLINGTON, Vt.

After more than a year of struggles — both in the workplace and before the state labor board — the more than 300 service and maintenance employees at the University of Vermont in Burlington won their union election on Dec.10. Joining the union’s ranks are custodians, painters, electricians, shuttle bus drivers, inventory clerks, plumbers and other university employees.

Tom Stout, a maintenance specialist at UVM, said he was glad to organize into UE because "now we have a voice in our future. We are tired of the top people earning most of the money."

The victory at UVM involved a long campaign and was successful, in part, because of the assistance and support of UE members in Vermont and elsewhere.

The organizing efforts began in the fall of 1996 with UE’s efforts to organize all the staff employees of the university. When it became clear that the blue collar workers were ready to organize first, UE asked the state labor board to conduct an election among UVM’s service and maintenance employees. Service and maintenance employees cited low wages, a lack of respect, eroding benefits, and a poor grievance procedure as reasons to join UE.

UVM challenged the UE’s petition and argued that the only appropriate bargaining unit would include 1,100 employees —- both white and blue collar. A four-day hearing before the state labor board took place in August. The union prevailed in the decision issued in October; an election was ordered for Dec.10.

The university did what it could to discourage workers from joining the union. UVM hired an anti-union consultant from Boston, held small group meetings, started rumors and published anti-union literature.

At one point, the university announced to a large group of custodians that a "special guest" would come to UVM to tell employees what is was like to work in a union environment. A former UVM employee, this "guest" works for Dartmouth College — a college whose service and maintenance employees are represented by the Service Employees International Union. Not a blue collar worker as management had implied, the guest speaker was instead assistant to the Human Resources Director at Dartmouth.

UE contacted SEIU Local 560 at Dartmouth. When local president Earl Sweet learned who was coming to Vermont, he and two other officers of his local traveled to Burlington and crashed the meeting. The Dartmouth management person had little to say in the face of his own employees. Members of SEIU also assisted the UE by attending small group meetings.

UE members from around Vermont and elsewhere also assisted in the drive, as did UE District Two Pres. Judy Atkins. In addition to members from Local 258 in Windsor, Local 218 in Springfield, Local 234 in St. Johnsbury and Local 221 in Burlington, Carole Braun from UE Local 767 at Antioch College in Ohio made two trips to Burlington to tell UVM employees what a positive effect UE can have at a college. Doug Anderson from UE Local 896 also traveled from Iowa to Vermont to talk to UVM workers about UE.

UVM workers also had a friend in Vermont’s sole member of Congress. In a personal letter to Dr. Judith Ramaley, university president, independent Bernie Sanders called on UVM to fire the anti-union consultant and "do everything in its power to conduct a free and fair campaign."

Rep. Sanders also spoke at an election-eve rally at which he urged workers to vote for UE. Also speaking at the rally, UE Dir. of Org. Robert Kingsley declared, "UVM, it is time to share the power with the people who do the work!"

Service and maintenance employees showed support for the union in many different ways. Many employees wore UE T-Shirts which said "UVM Works Because We Do." Others wore UE buttons and caps. Students gave UE organizers permission to hang "Vote YES" posters on the doors. Workers also attended rallies, press conferences and other union events.

UE leaflets were written in Bosnian, English and Vietnamese; ballots were printed in both English and Vietnamese. The whole-hearted support of Vietnamese and Bosnian immigrant workers contributed to the margin of victory.

Assisting UVM’s service and maintenance employees were Intl. Rep. Harry Authelet and Field Organizers Mark Meinster, Kimberly Lawson, Keith Eveleth, Rachel Wells, and many other staff from around the union.

Don English, inventory stock clerk at UVM said, "It’s been a long road but now that we are at the end we are anxiously looking forward to the fun part —negotiating!"

UE News - (01/98)


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