April 23, 2010

Teamsters rally to demand better contract

[img id="78238" align="alignleft"]

Campus clerical and maintenance workers from Teamsters Local 743 held a two-site rally Wednesday denouncing a University-offered contract the union rejected April 16.

In front of the administration building, around 30 union members and the 15 or so faculty and students who joined them chanted, “They say contract, we say fight back!” Another group protested in front of the University Press building for the rally, which was also held in recognition of National Secretary Day.

Gloria Isabel Rodriguez, a project assistant at the University and a union steward and negotiator, said union members were upset and insulted by the University’s recent contract offer. She and other union members said the offer consisted of a four-year contract rather than the usual three, and offered a 35-hour work week—rather than the 40 hours the union wanted—to service and maintenance staff at the dormitories.

Ninety-five percent of the union voted down the contract last week with sixty-three percent of members voting, according to a union press release. “They have not listened to our concerns about job security and fair wages,” union representative Joe Sexauer said of the negotiations, “and when [University President] Zimmer said they had balanced the budget due to budget cuts, a lot of that came out of members’ wages, and we’ve lost a lot of people.”

In a December letter, written before negotiations began, the University said it hoped the union would join it in “a fresh approach to these discussions, to be open to a balanced process, and to move forward with a common purpose to sustain our University,” that might serve as a “new national model” for labor negotiations. Sexauer said the University had not lived up to that standard: “Balancing the budget on the back of Teamsters—that’s not a new national model.”

University spokesman Jeremy Manier said in an e-mail, “We believe there has been positive movement during the negotiation process. It’s not unusual to need more than one vote before reaching an agreement.”

Manier said negotiating four- and five-year contracts has become more common during the recession. “In this time of economic uncertainty, a longer contract would lock in a guaranteed increase for union members even in the event of an economic downturn,” he said.

Negotiations will begin again soon, Manier said. “The University remains committed to negotiating a contract that is fair, market-driven, and economically sustainable.”

Pegg Anderson, a secretary at the James Franck Institute and a union member, said she commutes two hours a day. She is unhappy with the contract because “it doesn’t keep up with the cost of living...I need to be able to take care of myself and still work here,” she said.

The University has lately spent a lot of money on landscaping, Anderson noted, but wondered why that money wasn’t spent on campus workers. “Why can’t they just be a little more fair?” she said.

Representatives from Graduate Students United (GSU) attended the rally; the group is hoping to become the first private-sector union in the country, according to 743 representative Joe Sexauer. GSU is currently looking to partner with a larger union organization.

GSU member Toussaint Losier, the graduate liaison to the Board of Trustees, addressed the crowd at the administration building. In an interview afterward, he said there were similarities between the negotiations graduate students and campus workers have had with the University, and that he was there to recognize the union’s support in the past

“We do see a connection” between graduate students and campus workers, Losier said. “The Provost is deciding on not cutting back on AR [Advance Residency] tuition and what the campus workers have seen in terms of cutting their hours down to 35 per week and the poor contract offer that the administration has given them. In both instances the excuse is that there’s not enough money.”