University of Vermont
Workers Vote UE
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
unions 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 UEs 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 UVMs 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 UEs 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
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 Vermonts 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 UVMs 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, "Its been a
long road but now that we are at the end we are anxiously looking forward to the fun part