Staff Union Holds Teach-In Regarding Negotiation Conflicts
Cas Sweeney '19 Assistant Layout Editor
Local 211, the Housekeeping and Dining Union at Smith, had a teach-in on Sept. 14 to educate the campus about their contract negotiations. Usually the negotiations, which happen every three years, are completed over the summer before the students return. However, this year they have stalled.
The union opened up the teach-in by explaining the unique problems they face when negotiating their contract. “It takes us longer,” Kim Osborne, housekeeper of Chase said about the negotionations. This is because most of the union leaders are members of the staff and not trained to negotiate contracts. Additionally, the union does not have the same resources as the administration does. “They have this information at their fingertips and we have to research this,” Osborne said.
Because of the power imbalances that exist between the union and the administration, the union leaders decided that the best way to shift the balance was to discuss their negotiations with the rest of the college.
A major concern for the union during the negotiations is the increasing use of temporary workers. On average, Smith gave temps a total of 300 to 400 hours of work in previous years. Last year, in contrast, the college totaled 3,000 temp hours. For the new contract, the management proposed to raise the maximum number of temp hours to 4,500 per year, but the union persists that the number stay under 2,000.
The union leaders expressed concern over the increase not only for themselves, but also for the temporary workers. Unlike the permanent employees who get benefits according to their contract, Osborne said, “[the temporary workers] don’t get sick time. They don’t get vacation time. They get nothing. They don’t get overtime.”
Permanent employees often end up in the same situation as temps. When the school lets out for the summer, 50 to 60 dining and housekeeping employees stay on, but become temporary workers and lose the benefits that their contract allows them for the school year. The union wants to require the college to have permanent employees for the summer.
Another primary concern for the union is how wages have decreased over the last 30 years when adjusted for inflation. Therefore, the union has proposed raises for the union members equaling $70,000 per year for 135 people, approximately 35 cents an hour per person.
The union is also re-negotiating funeral leave. Currently, if someone in a union member’s family dies and the family has a traditional funeral, the employee will get three days of funeral leave, including travel time. If the family decides to have a non-traditional funeral, then the employee will get one day of funeral leave.
The union believes that the current amount of funeral leave does not give members a proper amount of time to grieve, and therefore is asking for a longer funeral leave for employees. They are also planning to redefine the definitions of family and of what counts as a traditional funeral.
The union leaders expressed concerns over how the administration treats them during negotiations. Jeannette, a professor, sat in on a meeting during this negotiation cycle and said that the attitude from the administration towards the union at the negotiation table was “one of the most egregious examples of classism that [she has] seen on campus in [her] thirty years.”
In 2010, negotiations were fraught with similar difficulties and the students created a coalition of students, faculty, staff and alums to support the union. The coalition encouraged alums to call in to the college and tell them, “How are negotiations going? Because I really care as an alum,” and as negotiations dragged on, “I’m not going to donate until I know what happens.”
Once the students, faculty and alums got involved, the administration treated the union members more respectfully, according to the union leaders. Terry Coals the union’s council said, “The college is really sensitive, in a way many institutions are not, to demonstrations.”
The union believes that this year it has again become necessary for the rest of the college to get involved. Jennifer Guglielmo, an associate professor of History, said, “To express support and solidarity is so important.” Sending letters and making phone calls are the number one way to show support for the union members, according to Guglielmo.
When asked by students attending the teach-in, the union said that the administrators who had power to influence the negotiations are the Director of Human Resources, the President of the College, the Director of Finance, and the Board of Trustees.
The teach-in was followed by a sit-in outside the negotiation building on Monday, Sept. 19. The purpose of the sit-in was to make known to Smith that the students, faculty and alums are here to support the dining and housekeeping union, and are watching to see what the administration decides.
Smith’s admissions department stresses to prospective students how important our dining and housekeeping staff is to the home-away-from-home feeling that Smith cultivates. People in support of this staff argue that when more temporary workers are brought into the college who don’t have a connection with the Smith community, and the permanent employees are treated worse, we run the risk of losing that feeling altogether.