They respond to the late-night vomit clean-up and residence hall lockouts. They juggle the beginning of semester mailroom rush, spend their summer days drenched in sweat from grounds maintenance and everything in between.
As Castleton State College’s staff, they range from public safety officers to secretaries and are depended on to keep campus running smoothly. Despite their round-the-clock dedication, a contractual impasse with the Vermont State Chancellor’s Office is putting them in a financially threatening position.
According to a release made by the Vermont State Employee’s Association on Sept. 3, the Chancellor’s Office is currently demanding a 25 percent cut from retirement benefits and is refusing to agree to a proposed wage increase the staff says keeps up with the cost of living.
“We’re paid much lower than anybody else in the state,” said Public Safety OfficerBill Duczeminski.
Dan Smith, director of community relations and public policy for The Vermont State Colleges Chancellor’s Office, released a statement Sept. 6 that said the objective of the negotiations is to reach an agreement that is both financially viable for the colleges, as well as, fair to the employees.
“The union represents some of our most valued and productive employees,” Smith said. “The joint declaration of impasse is a disappointment.”
The standstill of a new contract, which was scheduled to be in effect by July 1 of this year, has Castleton’s staff stirred up. For some, their discontent is derived from their view of Castleton as not only their place of employment, but also their alma mater.
“A lot of us had the opportunity to go other places,” said Mary Woods, staff assistant for faculty and member of the negotiating team. “But we chose to stay here because of how we feel about this place.”
Billy Langlois, negotiations team member and library acquisitions staff member, said she fears for this era of grads looking to return to the place they called home for four years as a member of the payroll.
“When students graduate here they’re thrown out into a tough economy and the college shouldn’t contribute to the race to the bottom,” she said.
Langlois added that some members of staff are far beyond merely pinching pennies to make ends meet and have sought additional opportunities to provide for their families.
“We have staff here with two or three jobs because they have to,” she said. “Some are on assistance.”
According to Smith, the Chancellor’s Office aims to mutually agree upon a contract that benefits these valued employees.
“We fully trust the next step of the bargaining process to deliver a contract that is financially responsible and fair,” he said.
However, Duczeminski, Langlois, and Woods said thus far in the negotiation process, they have yet to lay eyes on Chancellor Tim Donovan.
“The Chancellor’s office has done nothing to get more money from the state, and they readily admitted that in bargaining,” Langlois said. “Instead they raised tuition and want to cut our benefits.”
The impasse has employees wondering not when they will retire, but how.
“It’s going to be tough to retire anyway, but they’re making it tougher. I’ll retire when I’m 80,” Duczeminski said with a laugh.
According to John Massey, representative of the Vermont State Employee’s Association, the contract impasse is a statewide issue. Massey and other representatives are visiting colleges throughout Vermont to gain support for a fair contract from students and community members.
“We’re on every campus in the state right now,” he said.
Duczeminski said the Board of Trustees is scheduled to go on a retreat Sept. 17 to discuss their new plans for a contract. Union members and supporters of the fair contract are set to gather for a rally in Montpelier on Sept. 16, outside the Chancellor’s office, to be the board’s last vision before embarking on their retreat.
“Hopefully we have something put in their minds before they go on that retreat,” he said.