Workers at the University of Vermont said today that contract talks have stalled with school officials — largely over wage increases and retiree benefits. Union workers were joined by students, members of the faculty union and representatives of the Vermont Workers Center at a press conference inside the recently-built Davis Center on the UVM campus.
The two sides have been negotiating since April, and have agreed on many issues, said Kim Lawson, a organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), and have recently reached an impasse.
Despite some agreements, the two sides remain far apart on issues related to wages, benefits and some working conditions, said David Hamilton, Sr., a locksmith at the university and a member of UE Local 267's bargaining team.
UE Local 267 represents more than 350 service and maintenance workers at the university. Among these employees are custodians, bus drivers, electricians, plumbers, carpenters, roofers, and more.
Carmyn Stanko, UE Local 267's president, said that about 150 of those 350 workers do not yet earn a living wage.
(Pictured from l to r: David Hamilton, Sr., Kim Lawson, Carmyn Stanko)
Hamilton said the union was seeking a 4 percent increase in each of the next three years, while the university countered with a 1 percent increase.
"That doesn't seem like a fair offer to us," said Hamilton. "And, besides they also wanted the ability to take away retirees' health benefits and wanted to change the layoff process."
Lawson said UVM wants the ability to take away a retirees' benefits at will, and also make it harder for laid off workers to find other work on campus.
"This is a university that has enough money to build big beautiful buildings when it wants or pay administrators six-figure salaries, but apparently it doesn't want to give basic cost-of-living increases to employees who earn far less than the administrator who sits across from them at the negotiating table," said Lawson.
UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera wouldn't comment on the bargaining talks or the sticking points between the two sides. He noted that each of the past four contracts negotiated with UE Local 267, as well as other unions, have often reached an impasse, but a deal was struck in the end.
"As with past negotiations, I am confident that after mediation we will agree to a mutually satisfactory contract," said Corredera.
The two sides will meet with a federal mediator on Oct. 19.
UVM staff first organized in 1999 and have bargained four contracts with the university. In the most recent three-year contract, which expired on June 30, employees received annual wage increases of 4 percent.
Dave Shiman, who is president of United Academics, which represents faculty, said UVM recently agreed to a contract with part-time staff that included a 2 percent wage increase.
"Compare that to the what they're offering the staff who are central to the functioning of the university," said Shiman.
UVM's President Dan Fogel took heat earlier this year when he announced cuts at the university; at the same time, it was learned that some of the highest-paid adminstrators had received nearly $1 million in bonuses, and that the list of UVM staffers earning six figures had grown from two to 40 since 2002.