UE Local 267
negotiating committee member Norma Sprague addresses the media at a July
21st press conference announcing the first UE-UVM contract.
UE Local 267's
Negotiating Committee holding its first UE Contract. From left to right:
Wayne Lawton, Tom Stout, Brad Bluto, Lester Gockley and Norma Sprague.
A first union agreement approved in July by UE Local 267
members achieves the goals set two years ago by the more than 350 service and
maintenance employees of the University of Vermont in launching their
organizing campaign: dignity and respect on the job, decent wages, better and
protected benefits, an effective grievance procedure, job security and the
ability to advance (see: University of Vermont
Workers Vote UE).
"I think we bargained a good contract," says Norma
Sprague, a custodian and a member of the local’s negotiating committee.
Adds Brad Bluto, interim chief steward, "This is
not only a good contract for employees – the wages and the job security
affect employees’ families and their communities. The benefits of this
agreement goes well beyond UVM’s campus."
The active participation of the rank and file in frequent
displays of support for the negotiating committee during the lengthy
negotiations had a significant impact on the final agreement.
REAL WAGE INCREASES
Prior to the union, workers received a small yearly percentage
increase (often below 2 percent) and a merit increase. If the supervisor liked
an employee, that worker might get an extra 1 percent in merit pay.
Merit raises are no more. With the UE contract, each employee
receives 1.7 percent plus 30 cents per hour for the first year of the
agreement, retroactive to July 1, 1998. In the second year of the agreement,
each employee will receive 40 cents an hour. These raises represent as much as
a 11.3 percent increase for the lowest paid UVM workers and almost 9 percent
for the average paid employee.
"This contract gives the lowest paid employees a fair
shake in raises for a change," says Sprague.
Other highlights of the new contract include: a fifth week of
vacation for 25-year employees, a freeze on health insurance premiums; better
bereavement and medical leave and a new clothing and shoe reimbursement
policy. Also, UVM workers gain an additional holiday, designated a cultural
holiday for all employees. The contract implements a four-step formal
grievance procedure which begins with the supervisor and ends with the Vermont
Labor Relations Board.
The local also made significant gains in the area of job
security and advancement. Before the union, workers could be laid off out of
seniority. Subcontracting was a frequent threat. The union establishes strict
rules for layoffs which require the university to abide by seniority and
establishes a formal process which guards against subcontracting.
Before the union contract, the university could hire temporary
employees into bargaining unit jobs for unlimited amounts of time. The new
contract places a six-month limit on the use of temporary workers and mandates
that temporary employees cannot be used to "erode the bargaining
Prior to organizing, workers had little opportunities to try
new jobs at UVM. The university posted positions and then often hired from the
outside. Many workers complained that they were stuck in whatever job into
which they had originally been hired for their work life. The new agreement
calls for preferential treatment for UVM employees for job openings and gives
preference to senior employees.
The negotiating process was sometimes difficult because UVM
employees do not have the right to strike under Vermont state law and must
instead resort to a fact finding and arbitration procedure if unable to reach
agreement at the table. The members were determined to win their contract
without this procedure.
The university also threatened employees with significant
increases in health insurance premiums. UVM’s rates were going up so the
university wanted to pass these increases along to employees. University
employees have been told for years that their low wages are off set by decent
benefits. When UVM tried to go after the health insurance premiums, members
told them to keep their "hands off" the health care.
Local 267 members frequently signed petitions, attended
rallies, and wore stickers. In the final weeks of bargaining members wore
stickers reading: "Ask me if I made a Living Wage" and buttons which
read "Hands off my Health Care."
The backbone of the union’s campaign for a fair first
contract was the interim steward system established after the Dec. 10, 1997
election that affirmed a UE majority among UMV’s service and maintenance
workers, among them custodians, skilled trades, bus drivers and store clerks.
While bargaining was underway, interim stewards were fighting and often
winning grievances on campus despite the absence of a formal procedure.
Stewards represented employees who had been unfairly disciplined, who had been
denied upgrades and who had been unilaterally moved to other shifts. Other
members fought and won a battle against a university attempt to impose a dress
code on some custodians.
Now with a new agreement in place, the local is busy drafting
and ratifying a local constitution, setting their local structure, and
planning the additional gains future union contracts will bring.
UE Local 267’s negotiating committee consisted of Brad Bluto,
Lester Gockley, Norma Sprague, Wayne Lawton, Tom Stout, and
Ed Zayas. The
local was assisted by Intl. Rep. Kimberly Lawson and Field Organizers Heather
Reimer and Mark Meinster.
UE News - 08/99