College staff votes to unionize
MONTPELIER – The atmosphere was one of jubilation in Stone Science Hall Thursday at Vermont College as college staff celebrated their overwhelming vote to form a union.
Of the 41 academic and administrative staff members who cast ballots during the National Labor Relations Board-moderated vote, 37 were in favor of forming a union. Ninety percent of eligible voters cast ballots in favor of forming the union, to be called United Professionals of Vermont College. Four staff members eligible to vote did not and their positions will be included in the bargaining unit that negotiates a contract with the administration.
"We knew we were going to win. It was a question of with how much strength," said Jamie Kline, assistant director of the undergraduate program at Vermont College. Kline anticipates the staff will wield a powerful voice when they go to the table to negotiate a contract with administrators, something they hope to do within a month or two. "With percentages so high, we'll have a strong voice," he said.
In December of 2005, more than 70 percent of staff signed cards calling for the union vote. They cited an erosion of "consensus-based decision making" at Vermont College since it was acquired by Cincinnati-based Union Institute and University in 2001.
Carolyn Krause, spokeswoman for Union Institute and University, said the university will most certainly "bargain in good faith" on a contract with the newly formed union, which is affiliated with United Professions of Vermont/American Federation of Teachers.
"They've cast their votes and their voices have been heard," Krause said. "We respect their right to decide how they're going to interact with their employer."
Kline said he believes that it is possible the administration will try to stall on negotiations because they may worry about the union's impact on staff at any of the other campuses that Union Institute and University has across the country. There are no unions at the university's other campuses, located in Ohio, Florida, California and Brattleboro.
Staff members pointed out that in general, when voting to form a union, organizations lose support between the time their members sign cards calling for a vote and the actual polling date. In this case, Vermont College staff gained support. Union members said e-mails from the university administration urging them not to go along with the union may have had the opposite effect and actually turned them away from the administration.
Vice president of human resources for Union Institute and University, Deborah Eamoe, was at Vermont College when voting took place, but was not available for comment.
"Recent efforts that (staff members in support of the union) have made … to say this is not an effort to divide us but to unite us (as a campus) have been well received by the local administration," said Kline.
"We want the same thing the administration does," added Louise Crowley, director of the MFA program in writing. "We want a strong institution and we know we can have an impact on this."
Anne Connor, director of the Academic Support Network at Vermont College, said in earlier interviews that the move to form a union was "a drive based more on ideals than money." Kline echoed that sentiment.
"We're looking for respect and that's easy to give," he said, joking that the union members are academics, "so we're thinking about the three R's: respect, respect, respect."
"We anticipate the administration will view this as an opportunity to work collaboratively with staff to create a more positive work environment," Kline said in a press release.
The union vote came after hearings before the National Labor Relations Board in Boston over three administrative positions Union Institute and University argued should not be included in the union bargaining unit. The NLRB ultimately ruled that these positions should be included.
"We're thrilled to pieces," said Crowley, whose MFA director position was one contested by Union Institute. "We felt all along that we belonged to it … We would have been dreadfully disappointed if we weren't a part of it," she said.
"We're a very unified group of people," said Crowley of the newly formed United Professionals of Vermont College. "Everybody here is so dedicated to this campus."
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