Hundreds of UVM employees vote to join staff union

The University of Vermont campus in Burlington on Thursday, June 6, 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Hundreds of exempt employees at the University of Vermont have voted to unionize, joining their clerical and technical colleagues who voted to unionize with the American Federation of Teachers in May. 

About 80% of the votes were in favor of the union, UVM Staff United, which passed in a mail-in ballot, 394-99.

Exempt employees include salaried workers who do not have supervisory or managerial responsibilities. 

“We are facing many of the same issues as our UVM Clerical, Technical, & Specialized colleagues who just won their union election last month,” Ellen Kaye, who works as a cataloger in Howe Library, said in a Thursday press release. 

“We’re excited to join them at the bargaining table and negotiate as equals with the UVM administration to protect and improve our compensation and working conditions,” Kaye said. 

UVM Staff United will now represent more than 650 workers from a swath of departments, including communications and outreach, in addition to about 680 technical and clerical staff.

The two groups have collaborated on organizing efforts for more than a year and a half, Kaye said, but held separate elections due a technicality regarding employee eligibility. University management initially deemed 100 of the clerical and technical workers as ineligible for union membership but reached an agreement with AFT Vermont after a virtual protest

This was the first time exempt employees voted on unionization. The clerical and technical workers had made two previous attempts to unionize over the past decade before last month’s success.  

A statement provided by UVM spokesperson Enrique Corredera said the university was supportive of “the rights of our employees to vote on their potential representation.” 

“The university values and relies on the contributions of all faculty and staff members, and remains focused on providing a supportive, inclusive and rewarding work environment for everyone, whether they are formally represented or not,” according to the statement. “We will engage with the new bargaining unit to negotiate a fair contract.” 

Over the summer, the university announced pay cuts for nonunionized employees making more than $45,000 per year. Those cuts were later reversed around the time unionization efforts went public, Kaye said. President Suresh Garimella said the pay levels were restored to previous levels because of better-than-expected enrollment numbers. 

“We know that when we negotiate collectively we can make UVM a better educational experience for students and a better work environment for staff,” Rachel Wallace-Brodeur, a staff member with UVM’s pediatrics department, said in Thursday’s press release.

The university and United Academics, its faculty union, agreed to a new four-year contract in May.

“As more higher education and healthcare workers join our union, we continue to organize for justice on the job, for quality healthcare and higher education and for a better Vermont,” Deb Snell, president of AFT Vermont, said in the press release. 

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