Members of Service Employees International Union Locals 1199 and 200United picketed and handed out flyers at events throughout Meliora Weekend to draw support for their contract negotiations with UR.

Negotiations have failed to yield a resolution over the last few weeks. Workers have been without a contract since Oct. 1. Picketing began Friday outside of Strong Memorial Hospital and continued with a march to Wallis Hall on the River Campus where a crowd of about 100 service employees and student supporters demonstrated outside of UR President Joel Seligman’s office. SEIU members could be seen across campus throughout Meliora Weekend handing out flyers to students, alumni and parents.

“We call on UR to fulfill its highest calling, to be a responsible institution – to do the right thing,” SEIU Local 1199 Vice President Bruce Popper said to the crowd outside of Wallis Hall. Popper serves as chief negotiator for both SEIU Local 200United and SEIU Local 1199. “This weekend, we are going to tell one University of Rochester about the other University of Rochester. We are going to tell them about the university that keeps us five paychecks ahead of poverty, that wants to cut our kids’ health care, that treats workers like numbers, not human beings.”

“Our goal was to let the administration and faculty know we are united with the community,” SEIU Local 200United Representative Willie Wordlaw said.

Members of Students for Social Justice and the Black Students’ Union marched alongside union members. SSJ member and senior David Ladon and BSU President and junior Marquis Harrison also addressed the crowd.

“We feel the need to be here with you,” Harrison told the crowd. “You are the only black faces some of the students see. You deserve fair compensation and you deserve fair health care.”

SSJ helped to organize the march and hoped to gain student support at the event.

“SSJ has gotten involved in the contract dispute on the side of the workers in order to fight for fair wage and health benefits for university workers,” SSJ member and junior Adam Machson-Carter said. “It is morally reprehensible for the most profitable hospital in the state and one of the wealthiest universities to cut wages and healthcare benefits to its vital workers. If the university is committed to Meliora – always better – then it can and must do better for some of the most vital members of our community.”

UR questions the accuracy of the unions’ message.

“We respect the union’s right to picket, although we’re concerned that the union’s public statements have been misleading,” spokeswoman for UR’s negotiators and Medical Center Director of Public Relations and Communications Teri D’Agostino said in response to the picket. “The university has proposed increases in both wages and contributions to benefits. Despite the unions’ rhetoric, it’s important to note that the university has proposed increases in both wages and contributions to benefits, increases that are consistent with those provided to non-union employees.”

At Monday’s Students’ Association Senate meeting, Popper and D’Agostino discussed their concerns with students.

Popper projected that the four percent pay increase desired by the union would cost students $5.06 a year if 50 percent of the financial burden was distributed evenly amongst all students. If 100 percent of the responsibility was placed on the students’ shoulders, then a four percent increase would raise tuition by $10.

The university is attempting to “put the workforce into a market competitive system,” D’Agostino told the senate.

About 200 River Campus service workers are members of SEIU Local 200United, primarily personnel in food and building service positions. UR Medical Center has about 1,000 employees belonging to SEIU Local 1199 in patient care, surgical support, patient transport, housekeeping and other service positions.

“We are hopeful that a fair and equitable settlement can be reached before it comes to a strike,” D’Agostino said. “However, because a strike remains a possibility, we are obligated to put plans in place to ensure that patients and students are not affected. We have contingency staffing plans that would activate additional workers to ensure that operations continue in the event of a strike or other work disruption.”

Bruml can be reached at

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