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March 31, 2006

UVM rallies for better pay

By JILL FAHY, Burlington Free Press

"The 1,800 employees who are still unrepresented are working to realize the same security afforded the faculty." Jennifer Larsen, geology lab technician

A group of University of Vermont students, staff and labor rights activists rallied on campus Thursday to demand better wages and working conditions for university workers and contractors not represented by a union.

The noon news conference at Old Mill, organized by the campus Student Labor Action Project, drew about 45 people. Among attendees were representatives for UVM staff — clerical, professional and technical workers and supervisors — who are the university's only employee groups not represented by a union.

Jennifer Larsen, a lab technician in UVM's geology department, said staff employees, particularly clerical staff, want more of a voice when it comes to discussions about wages, working conditions, retirement benefits and health benefits.

"The 1,800 employees who are still unrepresented are working to realize the same security afforded the faculty," Larsen said.

Nearly 300 of UVM's 632 clerical staff earn between $20,000 and $25,000 and are among the university's lowest paid workers, according to data from the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign.

University President Daniel Fogel said UVM always has been committed to providing fair and competitive wages for its employees.

"Among universities, UVM is among the most progressive employers in the nation," Fogel said. "The raises we've given staff on a percentage basis have been at the top of the region as compared to the other New England land grant universities."

About 50 percent of the university's staff employees support unionizing, Larsen said. Because the staff represents the university's largest employee group, it has taken time to gather support for taking a vote on whether to unionize, she added.

The rest of UVM's employees, including the full- and part-time faculty and the campus' maintenance workers, all work under separate contracts. Full-time faculty recently negotiated their second contract. Part-time faculty bargained for their first contract last month.

Colin Robinson, a UVM senior, said UVM's Students for Peace and Global Justice — an umbrella group for the Student Labor Action Project — have stood in solidarity with UVM's employee unions for the past four years. Students also began advocating for construction workers who are pushing the university to change the way it contracts for building projects.

Student activists have organized a number of rallies and speak-outs on campus in recent months, calling attention to faculty and staff grievances about working conditions and wages. Among the rallies was a demonstration in February during a UVM trustee meeting.

A 1986 UVM graduate, Larsen said she is impressed by the student support for university employees and contractors.

"As a former student, I'm astonished and thrilled these students are taking on this responsibility," Larsen said.


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