Local union fights benefit cuts
College officials will meet Tuesday with representatives of Local Union 560, whose members include food service and maintenance workers at the College, in an attempt to hammer out a new contract before the current one expires on June 30.
More than 100 union members picketed in front of Parkhurst Administration building June 6 for five and a half hours to protest the College's plan to convert some 12-month jobs to nine-month jobs, according to union President Earl Sweet, an employee at Facilities Operation and Management.
Sweet said the College recently changed eight non-union members' jobs at the Courtyard Cafe from 12 months to nine months.
"We want assurances that that won't happen to us," Sweet said.
The College offered a contract five days after the five-and-a-half-hour protest, but union members refused to sign it.
"We're getting set to go back to the contract table," Sweet said. "We're waiting to hear from the College."
The workers want a better dental health plan and assurances that their hours will not be slashed, Sweet said. About 370 College employees are in Local Union 560.
Sweet said reducing the number of months employees work would allow the College to eliminate certain health benefits.
Besides losing many health benefits, workers also lose out on three months of wages and have little hope of obtaining a second three-month job, according to Sweet.
Human Resources Director Roger Brock said because fewer students are on campus in the summer, the College wastes money by employing workers for 12 months.
But according to Sweet, the most important issue in the current contract negotiations is a $298 dental benefits package, which would cost the College $100,000 annually.
Sweet said that many workers are dependent on the College for their health care needs and if they are denied benefits, they will be forced to pay for insurance out of their own pockets.
"What I'm saying is if you take away our benefits, it hurts," Sweet said.
In an attempt to pressure the College and vocalize their discontent to a larger audience, Sweet said the union had planned a silent demonstration during the College's Commencement ceremonies on June 12.
The demonstration June 6 caused some commotion when protestors asked drivers passing by on North Main Street to honk their horns if they supported the union.
But Labor Secretary Robert Reich '68, who was the Commencement keynote speaker, intervened and requested that the union not hold the demonstration. He met with the union bargaining team June 11 to discuss its grievances.
Reich is a former member of the College's Board of Trustees.
At the meeting the union voiced its desire for less arbitrary firing practices and an end to nine-month employment, Sweet said. He said the union wants to limit the power of managers to fire workers or reduce working hours.
"Earl wants a management rights clause and a total freeze on 12-month jobs," Brock said. "We're unwilling."
The union members' refusal to sign a contract puts them in jeopardy of losing their jobs, he said.
And "if you're laid off you get no benefits," Brock said.