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UVM staff union back at bargaining table for higher wages in new contract

People stand next to a road and hold a long banner that reads "fair contract now!"
Samantha Watson
/
Vermont Public
UVM Staff United union members wave signs and distribute flyers to rush hour traffic on June 13.

A contract that covers hundreds of staff members at the University of Vermont is about to expire, and despite months of bargaining there is still no agreement.

UVM Staff United represents over 1,400 non-faculty clerical, technical and other specialized staff members at the university.

In 2022, the union negotiated their first contract with the administration, which raised the minimum wage for workers in their category from $14 an hour to $20. This meant percentage pay increases as high as 37% for the lowest-paid workers, and benefits including eight weeks of paid parental leave and domestic partner eligibility for benefits.

Now, that contract is ending and the parties have been back at the bargaining table since February. With two weeks left until their current agreement expires, members are pushing for a pay increase to address inflation.

Cameron Ishee is a program support generalist at the university and is also on the bargaining team for UVM Staff United.

“We want young people who are just starting in their careers to see a future here at this university, and we want the people who've been working here for decades to be able to retire. So we need fair wages, we need a fair contract,” Ishee said. “That's why we're out here.”

A single wage earner in the Chittenden Country area making less than $66,000 annually is considered low-income, according to a federal report published this year.

More than three-quarters of the union’s members fall within that low-income range, said Ellen Kaye, a cataloguer at the university libraries and co-president of UVM Staff United. She said it’s affecting staff retention.

“Our departments are getting kind of decimated,” Kaye said. “We can't replace people, we have job searches that fail, because the wages are not — what we're offering is not high enough for people to actually come here, and certainly not to relocate to this area.”

In addition to getting more livable wages, the union wants to maintain good health care benefits and create more opportunities for career progression. In 2022, the union advocated for a step scale where employees could experience a pay increase over time. It did not pass into the contract, but is included again in this year’s proposal.

“Our members want to see that they can plan a life here,” Kaye said.

In an emailed statement, a UVM spokesperson said the university is pleased with the negotiation progress made so far.

“UVM is committed to an approach that recognizes our responsibility to keep tuition costs down and make a UVM education accessible and affordable for all, especially Vermonters,” the university statement said.

On Friday, UVM Staff United began another phase of mediated sessions with university management. Their current contract will expire on June 30.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Samantha Watson is Vermont Public's news intern.
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