In an update to our story on Tuesday about a union election at the University of Vermont, we bring you this news: eligible UVM staff voted 339-278 in favor of forming a union.
But just which union the group of 778 staffers — lab techs, research assistants and library support staff, among others — will join is still up in the air. This week's election included two questions: Did staff members wish to form a union? And which union would they like to join — Vermont-NEA, the state's largest union; the unaffiliated United Staff; or neither?
The "neither" option received the most votes — 260 — likely from those who voted against unionizing in the first place. The NEA finished second with 183 votes. The two top choices will be on the ballot for a run-off election; no date has been set yet for that vote.
The election was the largest ever conducted by the Vermont Labor Relations Board. According to UVM staffer and union organizer Michele Patenaude, it was also the first time a group of eligible UVM employees voted to unionize on their first try. Faculty, service and maintenance workers, and campus security officers are all part of nationally-affiliated unions, but Patenaude says all of those groups faced multiple elections before successfully unionizing.
The "yes" vote comes after more than a year of campus organizing led by University Staff Union-NEA (USU-NEA), the group that filed for the election last spring.
Patenaude expressed satisfaction with the "yes" vote for unionizing, and feels confident that a majority of voters will choose USU-NEA in the run-off election. With turnout of close to 80 percent of eligible voters, she says the decision sends a strong signal that the majority of staff want a union.
"This is the voice of the staff," says Patenaude. "We think 55 percent [voting in favor of unioizing] is definitely a statement. It’s not a run away … but it's still a strong statement that the staff wants a union."
Not all UVM staff were eligible to vote in this week's election; another roughly 800 "exempt" workers — classified as those who are not eligible for overtime — were excluded from the union in a ruling by the Vermont Labor Relations Board. In a press release announcing this week's election results, the Vermont-NEA says that this group of employees is also working toward filing for a union election.