Union members rally for contract

On Sept. 18 members of Castleton’s faculty, staff, and students joined the Vermont State Employees Association and gathered at the steps of the Vermont State College Chancellor’s office in Montpelier to protest the current contractual impasse.
The sea of VSEA t-shirts and protest signs outside the Chancellor’s Office was comprised of members faculty, staff, students, and professionals across all four Vermont State Colleges as well as members from UVM and other union community supporters.
According to a release made by the VSEA 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 which the staff says keeps up with the cost of living.
Janis Henderson, a custodian for Johnson State College for fifteen years began the rally as a board member and unit chair for the VSEA and explained the purpose of the rally was so the Vermont State College Board of Trustees would hear the voice of the workers.
“The trustees will be at a fancy two-day retreat tomorrow at Lake Morey Resort and they need to know that we say no to cuts and yes to Vermont values,” she said.
The Board of Trustees were scheduled to take the retreat on Sept. 17 to discuss their new plans for a contract.
Dan Smith, director of community relations and public policy for the Vermont State College’s Chancellor’s Office released a statement on Sept. 6 that said the union members are valued employees and the objective of the negotiations is to reach an agreement that is financially viable for the colleges and fair to the employees.
“We fully trust the next step of the bargaining process to deliver a contract that is financially responsible and fair,” he said.
Castleton’s public safety office Bill Duczeminski said he hoped the rally would serve to put a message in the minds of the board members before embarking on their retreat.
“An important message we bring today is solidarity,” Henderson said.
“They say cut back, we say fight back!” she said leading the chant to the crowd that echoed her words.
Castleton Sociology Professor, and Faculty Federation President, Linda Olson followed Henderson in support of her position.
“We’re here because the staff’s fight is all of out fight,” she said. “We will not give in to this propaganda set forth by the Chancellor’s Office.”
Castleton’s Billie Langlois, negotiations team member and library acquisitions staff, spoke of the promises made by the made the state colleges to provide decent retirement and healthcare benefits.
“We have members who have worked for the state college 20, 30 years,” she said. “They’ve worked for years because of this promise and now the Chancellor wants to take it away.”
Theresa Conant of Lyndon State College and United Profession President mirrored Langlois’ desire for this promise of decent benefits to be upheld.
“A promise is a promise and should not be broken so easily,” she said.
“Absolutely!” interjected a member of the crowd.
“A promise is a promise and we want a fair contract now,” said Conant.
According to Langlois approximately two-thirds of the union members currently do not make a livable wage while the Chancellor makes almost $200,000 a year and is looking to cut the retirement benefits.
“The Chancellor’s office has done nothing to get more money from the state to cover these obligations,” she said. “Instead they raise tuition on students and try cut benefits to workers who do not make a livable wage.”
To voice a student opinion, Johnson State College’s senior Liz Beatty-Owens took to the microphone
“Students of the VSC would not be sp successful without the support of the VSC staff,” she said.
From the cooks to the maintenance staff, and everything in between, she said these are the workers who keep the campuses running.
“We stand in solidarity with the VSC staff,” she said.
Before the conclusion of the rally, the union members presented a petition with approximately 1,600 signatures in support of their pursuit of livable wages and retirement benefits.

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