UE Local 267, the union of the 350 service, trades and maintenance workers at the University of Vermont (UVM), ratified a new three-year contract in October. Negotiations, which began in March, were tough at times, but the new agreement achieved the key goals of the membership. “We were able to reach a decent contract with the university that included a wage increase and the availability of vacation time to our members. This is an agreement which we can build on in the future,” said Local President David Hamilton. The new agreement brings wage increases of 8 percent over three years.
A major issue was the university’s attempt to cut back the tuition remission benefit, which allows employees and their dependents can get a free education at UVM or any of the state colleges, for up to seven years to earn a bachelor’s degree. Local 267 fought hard and gave no concessions on this benefit, even as other unions were giving ground. The university also tried to increase the cost-sharing burden on employees under the health plan. The bargaining committee fought back, and the agreement includes minimal cost shifting which will not affect members in the lower pay grades.
The union also won an increase in the amount of union leave permitted, as well as dedicated time for stewards to meet with the members they represent. These are important gains as the local continues its work of building its strength through greater membership involvement. The union also won a cap on the number of days that management could “black out” for vacation purposes.
This contract is a major milestone in the local’s two-year internal organizing campaign which has included bolstering workplace representation with additional new stewards, as well as many lunchtime worksite meetings. Union officers, stewards and staff met with hundreds of members, surveyed them and discussed their goals in a new contact, and worked to build union strength on the job. As negotiations continued past the expiration date, the union leadership continued to build member involvement. Several special union meetings were held in which the member’s demands were brought to the bargaining table. By the time the union issued its last best final offer to UVM the members were united behind clear demands which the University had little weight to combat.
“Our committee was strong,” said Mike Wells, chief steward of custodial services and Young Activist. “We told them that we were not afraid to go to impasse. Then UVM would have to face us as well as all of our community and student supporters. We were not afraid to demand more money because if they can afford to pay dozens of administrators hundreds of thousands of dollars, they sure as hell can pay us what we deserve.”
Bargaining committee member Colin Barch added, “The tuition remission benefit is huge. A lot of guys in the trades are making half of what they would on the outside, but to have the benefit to put your kid through school is big, so we held strong on that.”
The local deepened its relationship to the faculty union, United Academics and gave support to the organizing drive among unrepresented staff by the Vermont State Employees Association. Campus unions formed the UVM Unions United coalition to continue fighting for the betterment of all UVM employees.
The UE Local 267 negotiating committee include Dave Hamilton, Ken Vachereau, Mike Wells, Charity Dugener, Joe Beaudry, Colin Barch, Jon Thiebault, Jeff Burnham, Mark Gregoire and Kathy Miles. They were assisted by UE International Rep. Kim Lawson and Field Organizer Chad McGinnis.