SEIU members vote to approve 2 percent pay raise

by Kelsey Flower | 10/8/15 7:05pm

Service Employee International Union members who are employed by the College voted on Oct. 1 to pass a new two-year contract giving them a 2 percent pay raise each year after finalizing negotiations with the College. About 420 of Dartmouth’s approximate 4,000 employees total are represented by the SEIU.

The 2 percent increase for employees will be retroactively set to July 1, 2015, once the contract is finalized, Dartmouth associate general counsel Kevin O’Leary, the College’s main negotiator at the bargaining table, said. The contract is set to be renewed on July 1, 2017.

Non-unionized employees of the College always receive any wage changes July 1, while benefit changes are effective Jan. 1.

SEIU Local 560 chapter president Earl Sweet said that union members “overwhelmingly accepted” the contract.

“I wish it was a bit more, but as long as our membership is satisfied, I’m satisfied,” Sweet said. “That’s what were here for, to represent the members. They have the final say whether to accept something or not.”

While the content of the contract has been finalized, the actual document has not yet been compiled, O’Leary said.

Once human resources is done putting together the physical documents for the SEIU and College to sign, copies will be made for each union employee and their managers.

The new contract has few other changes besides the salary increase, O’Leary said. He cited minor clarifications to questions employees had last year, small changes regarding uniforms and footwear and new union member eligibility for dependent care flexible spending accounts, which the College has had for a while but had not previously included in SEIU contracts, he said.

There were also only small changes made to the benefits package portion of the contract, including components like vacation time, personal time, health insurance and retirement benefits.

The benefits package is “essentially the same as the ones the non-unionized employees get,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary said that in his opinion, the wages and benefits that unionized and non-unionized employees get are not very different, and when they are, it reflects the different types of work that employees do. Employees in the SEIU include some members of the custodial staff in residential life buildings, campus maintenance crew, dining hall staff and Safety and Security officers.

“The College’s goal is always to provide fair pay and benefits to all of its employees,” O’Leary said.

According to the website Dartblog, the wage increase for faculty for the 2015-2016 year was only 1 percent.

The wage increase for unionized employees was also higher than the inflation rate, which was 1.6 percent in 2014.

O’Leary said that he had no comment on either of these facts, and also stated that he does not know from what portion of the budget the wage increase for SEIU members comes.

Douglas Silverstein, founding partner of the labor and employment law firm Kesluk, Silverstein and Jacob, said that nothing about the new contract appears to be “out of the ordinary.”

He said that comparing the wage increases of faculty versus unionized employees is “not an apples-to-apples comparison.”

Because the salaries of professors are substantially higher than the hourly rate that employees in SEIU are paid, their pay raise, while a relatively smaller percentage, may actually be a larger amount, Silverstein said.

“It stands to reason that as a professor’s raises get higher and higher, the percentage they increase will get smaller and smaller,” he said.

Silverstein also speculated about the influence of the Affordable Care Act, which has induced several changes in insurance policy during the last year. Because of employee side payroll taxes, as payrolls go up, an employer is not just paying the cost of the wage, but also a 7.5 percent tax in addition, he said.

O’Leary said that changes in the ACA were not a significant factor in the negotiations.

He said that while many employers are trying to plan for and deal with changes in the ACA that will take place in 2017, “this contract is not part of that planning.”

Sweet, however, did say that the ACA was “absolutely” a significant factor in SEIU’s contract negotiations.

“Health care is one of our major issues,” Sweet said. He added that it is very expensive, and can sometimes “eat up” raises that unionized employees receive.

Sweet said that since no one knows what is happening in the next couple of years with the ACA, and the College is concerned about having to pay taxes on it, SEIU chose to only go with a two-year contract.

“We wanted to make sure that we know what they are going to do, and we don’t know what the ACA is going to look like in two years,” he said. “We don’t know what effect it is going to have on the College or our members.”

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