As the debate on the terms of the new Service Employees International Union contract continues, union members have voted to set a deadline for the end of negotiations. Last night, 750 members of Local 1199 SEIU and SEIU Local 200 United overwhelming voted to authorize the bargaining committee to set a deadline of Oct. 6 at midnight to agree on a new contract. If there is no resolution at that time, the vote enables a picket to begin. Only 13 of the 750 members who were present at the voting dissented.
According to the Vice President of Local 1199 SEIU Bruce Popper, there has not been a strike at UR since 1975, when the University refused to enable a contract.
The last contract negotiation took place two years ago, when employees worked without a contract for six months before a compromise was reached.
The contract was set to expire on Saturday. According to Popper, negotiations ended on Friday when it was clear no resolution would be reached in time for the weekend deadline.
“Before leaving, union and management officials agreed to extend the current contracts until Monday at midnight,” Popper said.
Also on Friday, union members participated in a rally with the Black Students’ Union titled “UR Walk 4 Justice.” The rally was held to support the Jena Six and SEIU.
“We must be reminded of the injustice that exists on our campus in regards to workers rights.” President of the Minority Students Advisory Board and senior Marquis Harrison said in a press release. “These members of our community deserve fair compensations and adequate benefits.”
This weekend, however, the union suffered the tragic loss of one of their members, Latasha Shaw. Shaw sat on the union bargaining committee and was vice chairperson of the UR Campus Chapter of SEIU Local 200 United.
“Tasha was a constant advocate for workers’ rights and fought to improve the lives of her co-workers,” Popper said in a press release.
Following the death of Shaw, the pace of negotiations slowed, according to Popper. Union members set aside time to meet with students, and the contract was extended until Oct. 6.
Union members returned to negotiations this morning. Part of Friday will be taken off for Shaw’s funeral.
Local 1199 SEIU and SEIU Local 200 United is comprised of about 1,450 service workers employed by UR. Members include patient care technicians, nursing unit secretaries, surgical assistants, environmental and facilities maintenance employees and dietary, transportation and materials processing staff.
Union members have eight main goals for their new contract. They would like to sign a three-year contract, to maintain their current health benefits, to earn fair wage increases, to end the lower wages for newer employees, to increase training and educational opportunities, to create a child care fund, to improve dental care and to respect the right of other UR workers to join the union.
Rickie Austin, a cook helper of four years, said that his central concern with the new contract is health benefits. Two years ago, union members agreed to reduce the cost of their health care by accepting higher out-of-pocket expenses for medical visits and other services and ordering all their medications for delivery by mail. In this year’s negotiations, UR wants the union to absorb more of the costs of coverage.
“It’s really sad that UR is holding out the way they are when they have one of the top medical centers in the country,” Austin said. “If they make us pay for our benefits we might as well not even work here because we essentially won’t have a paycheck.”
Stephanie West, another cook helper of four years, is concerned about the message the University is sending.
“We work very, very hard, and just as they want us to appreciate the students, we want them to appreciate us,” West said. “We have kids and families to support, we have car payments, insurance payments and mortgages. Fairness comes from all sides.”
Austin hopes that it won’t come to the point of a strike, however.
“Every other time we have been able to find a compromise. I hope we can do that again, it would save everybody a lot of trouble,” Austin said.
Jarrett is a member of the class of 2009.