Last night, 750 members of the Service Employees International Union voted to authorize the negotiations committee to set a deadline of Saturday at midnight to end talks with UR. The vote was overwhelming, with only 13 members voting against the measure. If an agreement is not reached by the proposed deadline, the union workers will picket. The main point of contention is over health benefits, which the union wants to keep the same, but the University plans to cut back and change.
The SEIU currently represents about 1,450 service workers from both the River Campus and the UR Medical Center. The average salary of a full-time union worker is $26,000 – just over the federal poverty level for a family of five. Five hundred fifty households supported by members of the SEIU live in areas surrounding the UR River Campus, such as the 19th Ward. Thus, the standard of living these employees are able to pursue directly effects the community in which UR is housed.
UR is the largest employer in the city of Rochester, and with that comes a responsibility to the community that supports it. With the beginning of a new contract, the University has the opportunity to improve the livelihood of this community but is instead choosing to disregard the union’s request.
UR must set an example and take on a role of leadership in the treatment of its employees. Furthermore, as an educational institution, it must set an example to the students who will be tomorrow’s leaders. It sends a poor message to students that UR pays its workers – and expects them to be able to support themselves and perhaps even a family – a little more than half of the annual cost incurred by an individual student to attend the University. UR then further undermines the value of its employees when it tries to cut their benefits.
With very few days left to negotiate a new contract, UR must stop holding out and assume their position as a leader in the community. The SEIU employees deserve a livable wage, access to expedient promotions and health benefits for their families.