Public opinion swells as labor union negotiations continue

Posted by Elizabeth Hopkins '15

On Thursday Sept. 19 at 8 a.m., a group of students gathered silently on Case Green for an hour in a stand of solidarity for Skidmore College employees, whose contracts with Skidmore College expired this year. Students at the event last Thursday sought to show support for workers on an issue that "affects their livelihood," Joseph Alvarez '16, a member of the new Skidmore Labor Student Alliance (SLSA) said.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 200United is currently in competition with the United Professional and Service Employees Union (UPSEU) Local 1222, contending for the ability to represent Skidmore service employees. According to Skidmore administrators, service employees as a group have three options; they can vote to reinitiate their contract with SEIU, sign with a different union, or vote to forgo any union representation at all. A vote was taken this past August, but it resulted in stalemate. Negotiations have continued, and are being monitored by the National Labor Relations Board.

This process of renegotiation has been ongoing since the 1970s, according to SLSA members, and was an issue of contention just three years ago, Skidmore administration officials say.

Employee benefits remain the principle issue concerned in this compromise. Employees currently represented by SEIU receive healthcare and pension benefits from the union, not directly from Skidmore. If employees do not renew their contract with SEIU, these benefits could change, depending on whether or not they vote for a different union. Should employees forgo union representation all tother, Skidmore would provide benefits like healthcare and pension plans directly. "Employees are generally concerned," said Skidmore Vice President for Business Affairs and Treasurer Michael West, continuing "This is their future."

In a letter to the service employees, Skidmore President Phillip Gloztbach urged the employees to forgo union representation, arguing that it would bring the Skidmore community closer together. Skidmore currently maintains that employees would receive a higher level of benefits should they forgo union representation, and that--even though it would raise costs--it has a vested interest in ensuring its employees have a high quality of benefits.

As a result of the recent publicity on the issue and the flurry of student response to the issue, the negotiations have entered the minds of many students on campus. The SLSA has made extensive efforts to meet with Skidmore employees in order to gain a better understanding of the negotiations and why students might want to become aware of the issue.

On Tuesday Sept. 17 the student group met with employees to discuss the negotiations. "What was important in meeting with the workers was hearing their narratives," Brian Fredericks '16, another member of SLSA commented. Some students who have been following the negotiations wish to demonstrate support for employees by showing that they are simply aware of recent events and wish to stay informed about topics that concern workers. "The most important thing is to get this in people's minds," said Alvarez.

Student awareness has also increased significantly after Dean of Student Affairs Rochelle Calhoun sent an email to the student body and faculty last week to clarify the confusion surrounding the negotiations.

When asked about the student demonstrations, West and Glotzbach urged students interested in the ongoing labor situation to explore the SEIU contract that Skidmore negotiated in 2010, and under which the service workers are currently employed. The contract is available on the Skidmore website here.

Negotiations are ongoing and will continue until a consensus between labor unions, employees, and Skidmore College is reached.

Updated as of September 30, 2013:

Update: On September 30, the Skidmore community received an email from Barbara Beck, Associate Vice President for Finance and Administration and Director of Human Resources in regard to the SEIU union contract. Skidmore College and SEIU Local 200United, the labor union that currently represents 147 Skidmore employees, reached an agreement to "extend the current union contract until November 30, 2013."

A second run-off election will be held to determine which union Skidmore employees would most like to represent them. Skidmore awaits a response from the National Labor Relations Board about the details of the election.

Barbara Beck also addressed the claims by SEIU that Skidmore College acted inappropriately during the last vote in August in its communications with Skidmore employees. This accusation has "been found to be without merit."

Updated as of November 14, 2013:

On November 13, 2013, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ran a run-off election between SEIU Local 200United and United Professional and Service Employees Union Local 1222. The results were 64 Local 1222 and 63 SEIU. Two ballots remain under review. As a result the NLRB has not yet reached a final decision. Skidmore College's contract with SEIU Local 200United continues until November 30, 2013.

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