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Reports on contract negotiations between spokespeople for the administration of Sarah Lawrence College and spokespeople for members of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) who work at Sarah Lawrence
These reports describe negotiations for the first contract between Sarah Lawrence and IUOE Local 30.
In fall 2014, when campus facilities workers made clear their intention to unionize, members of the college's senior administration retained the law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King (BSK), whose labor division specializes in undermining unions. Many members of the Sarah Lawrence community believe that violates our college's best traditions; and our senior administrators seem to think that this is a valid concern because they have retained a lawyer from a different firm (which they initially declined to name) to give them additional advice. However, they have refused to sever ties with BSK.
Despite the administration's efforts to derail the organizing drive, on November 21, 2014, the facilities workers voted by a margin of 11 to 1 for union representation, in an election presided over and certified by the National Labor Relations Board. Working with their union--Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers--they have formed a bargaining committee and have begun negotiations for their first contract with Sarah Lawrence. An attorney from BSK is representing the Sarah Lawrence administration in these negotiations.
The reports below are my effort to keep the community informed as to what's happening at these meetings. Please scroll down.
Click here for reports on:
January 8, 2015
February 19, 2015
February 26, 2015
March 5, 2015
March 31, 2015
April 9, 2015
April 20, 2015
April 30, 2015
May 4, 2015
May 13, 2015
June 8, 2015
June 17, 2015
August 6, 2015
August 20, 2015
September 16, 2015
September 21, 2015
October 14, 2015
October 21, 2015
November 2, 2015
November 12, 2015
November 30, 2015
December 15, 2015
January 13, 2016
February 1, 2016
February 22, 2016
March 4, 2016
April 1, 2016
Admitted Students Day 1, 2016
April 25, 2016
Occupy Westland, May 2
Occupy Westlands, May 4
May 7-14, 2016
June 1, 2016
June 6, 2016
June 15, 2016
August 2, 2016 - a contract!
January 8, 2015
I did not attend this meeting but instead rely on information provided by several who did attend. This was the first bargaining session, intended simply to lay down ground rules. Union spokespeople requested that subsequent session be open to observation by members of the Sarah Lawrence community. Spokespeople for the administration refused to consider this proposal.
In response, the union bargaining committee recruited two new members: myself and Kelly Gilbert, co-chair of the student organization Sarah Lawrence Worker Justice. As members of the committee, we will attend the bargaining sessions and report to the community.
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February 19, 2015
The meeting was attended by two spokespeople for the administration (Julie Auster, Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs, and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King) and eight people on the workers' side: Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero, who make up the facilities workers' bargaining committee; Kelly Gilbert from the student body; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; and Brendan McPartland, Gary Archer, and Andres Puerta from IUOE Local 30.
The administration arranged for this meeting to take place in the office formerly occupied by the college's chief financial officer, who resigned suddenly on February 6. It was an eerie setting, with his papers still piled up on the desk and his notes still covering the blackboard.
Spokespeople for the workers' side presented their proposed contract, all of which was read aloud, with specific points clarified long the way One point of special interest to me was a proposal for restoring education benefits that were cut a couple of years ago. Education benefits are especially near and dear to the hearts of Sarah Lawrence employees.
After the workers' contract proposals were thoroughly presented, Julie Auster and Raymond Pascucci left the room for a private conversation about their response. They returned with several proposals for tentative agreements. Most of the issues here were technicalities, but one involved a matter of principle. The administration's spokespeople objected to the contract's referring to Sarah Lawrence as "the employer" and requested that this phrase be replaced by "the college." I was glad to see that the workers' side turned down that request, whose implementation would define the administration and Mr. Pascuccci as the only valid spokespeople for our beloved school.
The next session is scheduled for February 26. Report to follow.
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The meeting was attended by the same people as last time, with the addition of Maureen Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of Facilities, on the administration's side. Once again, we met in the office formerly occupied by Vince Massaro. His desk had been straightened up somewhat, but his files were still piled about the room and his notes were still on the blackboard.
The first order of business was a question from Brendan McPartland of the IUOE about an unnamed attorney that may be advising the administration on these contract negotiations.
Here is the background to that question: This past November, when faculty members learned that the administration had retained Bond, Schoeneck & King to undermine the organizing by facilities workers, several of us met with President Karen Lawrence, Vice President Tom Blum and Vice President Julie Auster to urge them to replace BSK with an employer-side labor law firm that is not associated with the "union avoidance" industry. At the request of these three administrators, we later supplied them with the names of several attorneys who would fill the bill. At our faculty meeting in December President Lawrence announced that the administration would begin consulting with one of the attorneys on our list but would also continue the relationship with BSK. She did not name this new attorney, but all of us who prepared the list immediately knew to whom she referred because she used the female pronoun and there was just one woman on our list.
In any event, when Brendan McPartland inquired as to the unnamed attorney's relationship to the negotiations, Julie Auster replied that the college consults with this attorney "periodically" and "primarily" about the contract negotiations, but that this individual is not a party to the negotiations. She also said that the administration has decided not to disclose the individual's name. (Update, March 10: In an email to the student body, President Karen Lawrence at last named this attorney; she's Jane Jacobs of Klein Zelman Rothermel Jacobs & Schess. The disclosure may be an exceedingly small gesture toward transparency, but it's at least a step in the right direction.)
Next, the administration presented non-economic counterproposals to the proposals that the workers' side had presented a week earlier. As was the case last week, most of the discussion involved technicalities but two matters of principle arose. First, the administration's side renewed its pressure that the contract refer to it as "the College," not "the employer"; and, once again, the workers' side rejected this proposal. Second, the administration rejected a workers'-side proposal that the contract cover facilities workers not only on the main campus but also at satellite sites such as the leased offices on Kraft Avenue in Bronxville (where fundraising operations will soon be based). Despite continued discussion, no agreement was reached on either issue.
The next meeting was set for March 5.
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March 5, 2015
This session was cancelled on account of snow. Since the administration side is unavailable until after the spring break, the next session is scheduled for March 30, the first day after the break.
I will thus fill this space with a brief lesson in history: When the administration hired Bond, Schoeneck & King to undermine the organizing drive, the firm orchestrated the distribution of letters and a flyer designed to persuade facilities workers that unionizing would somehow damage them. (This is right out of the "union avoidance" industry's playbook. You can read all about that industry's history in Robert Michael Smith's From Blackjacks to Briefcases and Martin Jay Levitt's Confessions of a Union Buster.) One of the letters included this claim that unionism is unprecedented at Sarah Lawrence: "Throughout its 90-year history Sarah Lawrence College has never prevented any of its employees from unionizing if they wanted to, but even though others have considered it, none of them have ever chosen this path." In fact, the International Union of Operating Engineers is not the first union to represent Sarah Lawrence employees. Workers in the old Building and Grounds Department voted in a union in the mid-1950s, but the administration refused to sign a contract that defined this department as a union shop. In the early 1970s, workers in the same department once again voted in a union and this time achieved a contract, but the administration later undercut the union by outsourcing the jobs of most of its members, who were building cleaners and custodians. What's different now? The IUOE is a more powerful union than the others, its members on campus have deeper and more widespread support from students and members of the faculty, and the distance between senior administrators and the rest of us is greater than ever before.
If you'd like to read the documents from which I've pieced together
this history, let me know and I will send them all via PDF.
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March 31, 2015
This meeting was attended by three spokespeople for the administration (Julie Auster, Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs; Maureen Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of Facilities; and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King) and seven people on the workers' side: Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero, who make up the facilities workers' bargaining committee; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; and Brendan McPartland, Gary Archer, and Andres Puerta from IUOE Local 30. Mr. McPartland was the chief negotiator for the workers' side, and Mr. Pascucci did virtually all of the talking for the administration's side.
The former CFO's papers and personal effects are finally getting cleared out of the office in which we meet, so this time we had a bit more elbow room. Since negotiations are moving forward very slowly, we agreed to have a long meeting on April 20 (as well as the shorter meetings scheduled for April 9 and 30). At this meeting--which, like oits predecessors, ran for just two hours--the employer-side and worker-side teams reached tentative agreements on certain seniority provisions, a no strike-no lockout clause, and not much else.
I see several reasons that things are dragging along. First, the employer-side team has so far declined to discuss any financial items (wages and fringe benefits) in the proposed contract that the workers' side presented on February 19. Perhaps this will change once the administration knows how many students will attend Sarah Lawrence next year. I hope so because I would not want the college we love to engage in an unfair labor practice--that is, a failure to bargain in good faith.
A second reason for the slow pace of these proceedings is that "union-avoidance" law firms like Bond, Schoeneck & King routinely drag things out, not so much to increase their fees, though that's surely a consideration, but rather to demoralize people on the union side of the bargaining table and the workers those people represent. An old friend of mine warned me this would happen. He does contract bargaining on behalf of the Maine State Employees Association, which the infamous Governor Paul LePage tried unsuccessfully to destroy with the help of BSK attorneys. (If you don't already know why he's infamous, a quick Google search can enlighten you.) It's a sad thing that Sarah Lawrence would turn to the same employer-side law firm as Mr. LePage, but that's where we are. And, while we're on that subject, I'll add that I was quite taken aback at the March 31 meeting by Ray Pascucci's diction. Time and again, he referred to the administration not as "the administration," "my client," or even "the College," but instead as "we" or "us"--as if he does not simply represent the administration but rather embodies it. To borrow a metaphor that has lately become quite popular among our administrators, I began to wonder who's driving the bus.
Another reason that the bargaining goes slowly is that administrators at Sarah Lawrence are unaccustomed to making agreements with people in the lower echelons of the institutional hierarchy, and you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks. Here's a case in point: One of the issues discussed on March 31 was a proposed clause under the heading of "Hiring and Probation" that calls on the employer to notify the union when job vacancies arise in the unit whose workers the union represents. This is pro forma in union contracts and quite easily implemented; employers simply make the notification part of the protocol for advertising vacancies. But the employer-side team rejected this clause, for reasons Julie Auster finally explained: she's very busy, as are her assistants, and she's afraid her office will forget to notify the union of vacancies. I know how she feels; all of us who work at Sarah Lawrence are swamped with responsibilities. I also know, however, that if someone higher up in the hierarchy asked to be notified about job openings, Julie's office would find a way to oblige. This is one of the things that a union changes: dismissals of requests from below that would be honored had they come from above. Our administrators will find that change difficult, but it will do the institution a world of good.
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April 9, 2015
This meeting was attended by two spokespeople for the administration (Julie Auster, Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs, and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King) and, on the workers' side, the usual group: Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero from facilities workers' bargaining committee; Kelly Gilbert from the student body; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; and Brendan McPartland, Gary Archer, and Andres Puerta from IUOE Local 30.
This meeting differed from the others. First, spokespeople for the administration at last presented a list of counterproposals to the proposals that the workers' side presented on February 19. It's hard to say why it took the administration so long to respond to those proposals, but it seems unlikely that thoughtful deliberation caused the delay. I say this because some of the counterproposals were not carefully thought out. For example, in a discussion about days off, Mr. Pascucci stated that the administration's proposed list of paid holidays included national holidays only. But that was obviously not the case, for this list included not only the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the Friday after (neither of them national holidays) but also one of the "October Study Days" that every year shut down the College for a Monday and Tuesday in the final third of October. Now, don't get me wrong; I think it's great that the administration defines all of these days as paid holidays. But I also think it's telling that the administration's attorney should describe them as national holidays--as if he had not spent much time thinking through the counterproposals. This kind of thing happens quite often at Sarah Lawrence. We are a small college and when our administration contracts with a large organization--in this case, Bond, Schoeneck & King, a union-busting law firm with a national profile--we're not regarded as clients important enough to merit close attention.
Another thing that made the April 9 meeting unusual was that, for the most part, the two sides sat in separate rooms, each responding by email to the other's proposals and counterproposals and speaking in person for only a few minutes, in order to clarify the emails' meanings. To tell you the truth, I rather enjoyed this format because it gave me a chance to chat with other members' of the workers' team. I'm impressed and inspired by the unity of this diverse group.
I'm also happy to report that the administration's counterproposals addressed a few issues-such as payment for jury duty and bereavement leave-that have financial ramifications. Mr. Pascucci had earlier said that the administration was not prepared to discuss any issues that involved dollars and cents, but apparently it's finally getting ready and that's certainly a good sign.
There's other good news, too. Despite her protestations at our bargaining session on March 31, Vice President Julie Auster agreed on April 9 to inform Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers when vacancies occur in the department whose workers this local represents.
Bottom line: slowly but surely unionism is advancing at Sarah Lawrence, and all of us who work here owe the facilities workers a debt of gratitude.
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April 20, 2015
It was a full house: three spokespeople for the administration (Julie Auster, Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs; Maureen Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of Facilities; and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King) and seven people on the workers' team: Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero, who make up the facilities workers' bargaining committee; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; Kelly Gilbert from the student body; and Brendan McPartland, Gary Archer, and Andres Puerta from IUOE Local 30.
This was a marathon session, from 1:00 to 6:30 p.m. Outside, the rain came down by the bucketful. Inside, we moved closer to the nitty-gritty of pay and benefits, and what I witnessed did not make me proud of our College.
At the meeting on April 9, there had been a brief discussion of vacation benefits, both paid holidays and the vacation time to which facilities workers are entitled depending on their years on the job. We noticed that the administration's proposal regarding vacation didn't mention the winter and spring breaks that have been part of the vacation benefit at Sarah Lawrence for as long as anyone remembers. Here's a link to the Human Resources web page that defines these breaks: https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/offices-services/human-resources/time-off/Winter_and_Spring_Breaks.html. When the workers' negotiating team asked about these breaks, Ray Pascucci suggested that they would be addressed in the next iteration of the administration's proposals. But the proposals handed to us on April 20 included not a word on the subject. When asked about that, Mr. Pascucci got testy, proclaiming that Sarah Lawrence would not commit itself to extending these benefits to facilities workers in the future and that spokespeople for the administration did not care to discuss the issue any further at that time. Asked when they would discuss it, he snapped, "When we're ready."
A similar situation arose with respect to leaves of absence on account of disability. The workers' negotiating team had submitted proposals that came verbatim from the Human Resources web pages. In other words, the workers' team proposed that the contract enshrine the College's current policy on disability leaves: https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/offices-services/human-resources/time-off/Extended_Leave-Disability.html. On April 20 the administration's team offered counterproposals, thereby rejecting a policy that originated with...you guessed it, the administration! Really, it was bizarre. But apparently it was not a mistake. When Brendan McPartland asked whether the administration actually intended that the disability system for facilities workers differ from the system for everyone else, Ray Pascucci replied that, yes, this might well be the case.
Another unsettled issue is the on-call system. During the nighttime and weekend hours when the facilities department is closed, one or more of the workers is expected to be on call--ready to come in to work should an emergency arise. On the weekend someone might be on call for up to two days. A worker on call may not go far from home, enjoy a beer, or turn off his cell phone; he's got to be ready to work at a moment's notice. Yet he is not compensated for being on call; only if he's actually called in will he get paid. The workers' negotiating team wishes to change that arrangement, and the administration's team likes it the way it is. Ray Pascucci insists that the possibility of getting called in is compensation enough, and of course that enrages the workers because it's tantamount to calling them scroungers, ignoring their high level of skill. That caused some very tense moments on April 20.
Once again--in fact, more than ever--Mr. Pascucci spoke for
the administration as if he ran the whole show, not just the negotiating team
but the Facilities Department or even the College. He seems to be settling in
for a long stay at Sarah Lawrence. (Some students clearly worry that this is
the case. Despite the heavy rain, a group gathered outside our meeting room's
windows to chant the demand that the College dump BSK.) At the same time, however,
he doesn't seem entirely on top of the job. To lead a client to reject its own
policy on disability leave strikes me as sloppy. His words with regard to on-call
pay and the winter and spring breaks seem needlessly antagonistic. The documents
we get from his negotiating team include small errors with regard to dates,
numbers and such. He sometimes forgets what's been agreed upon and what has
not. His style of argumentation generally reminds me more of a talk-show bully
than a jurist. And on April 20--four months after the workers voted in the union
and close to six months after the administration retained his law firm--Mr.
Pascucci still could not provide an accurate list of job titles for the College's
twelve facilities workers. So if I were a member of the administration, I wouldn't
be all that pleased...unless, of course, he were doing this work pro bono.
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April 30, 2015
Another full house: three spokespeople for the administration (Julie Auster, Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs; Maureen Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of Facilities; and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King) and seven people on the workers' team: Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero, who make up the facilities workers' bargaining committee; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; Kelly Gilbert from the student body; and Brendan McPartland, Gary Archer, and Andres Puerta from the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 30.
Mr. Pascucci racked up some billable hours. Apart from that, virtually nothing was accomplished. From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., we went around and around on what ought to be a simple matter: the job titles of the twelve facilities workers in the unit that voted for to be represented by the Operating Engineers. Mr. Pascucci provided a list of titles back in the fall, when the National Labor Relations Board defined which workers would take part in the union election. Presumably, that list came from the administration. Now the people on that side of the bargaining table want to change the list.
On the surface this seems frivolous, but I think I understand what's happening. As things now stand, every facilities worker has certain responsibilities but also does other kinds of work when the department needs him to pitch in. Naturally, the unit's supervisors want to preserve that arrangement.
The Operating Engineers have no objection; their contracts routinely include a clause stating that workers may perform tasks beyond their regular responsibilities. In fact, this is one of the attractions of becoming a stationary engineer--that is, someone in charge of maintaining of buildings. (From the time of its birth in December 1896--when it was known as the National Union of Steam Engineers--the International Union of Operating Engineers has represented stationary engineers as well as the operating engineers who run the heavy equipment used in construction.) I know a lot about the union's flexibility regarding work assignments because my son Max Schultz, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence (B.A. 1996), is a stationery engineer in San Francisco and a member of IUOE Local 39. He loves that his job differs from day to day.
For some reason, the administration's negotiating team seems to have the impression that the IUOE seeks to confine each facilities worker to a narrow set of tasks as defined by the job title. This is simply untrue, and Mr. Pascucci should know it. For the other people on his team, the contract bargaining comes on top of their real jobs. For him, it is the real job; and in this case it requires some homework that seems not to have been done.
It makes me sad that we've come to this pass. Every day I encounter
students in dire need of more financial aid, so it always breaks my heart to
see money wasted.
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May 4, 2015
This session was attended by three spokespeople for the administration (Julie Auster, Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs; Maureen Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of Facilities; and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King) and six people on the workers' side: Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero, who make up the facilities workers' bargaining committee; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; and Brendan McPartland and Gary Archer from IUOE Local 30. Once again, Mr. McPartland was the chief negotiator for the workers, and Mr. Pascucci spoke for the administration.
Mr. Pascucci had arrived on campus several hours before the negotiations began and spent some time in conference with his team. They came to the bargaining session ready to negotiate. By the end of the session, the two sides reached tentative agreements (TAs) on several items. One was job classifications. At long last, the administration agreed to the classifications it had provided in the fall, when the union filed for the election; and that accord cleared the way for a TA on the administrations formal recognition of the Operating Engineers as the facilities workers bargaining agent. There was also a tentative agreement on the important issue of seniority: how it will factor into vacation, job bidding, promotion, layoffs and so on. In sum, it was a productive meeting, and we all left it in an affable mood. Heres hoping we can maintain that frame of mind as we move on to discussions of wages and benefits.
On my side of the table, spirits were also buoyed by a group of students who stood outside the window for a few minutes and chanted their support for the workers.
Two additional observations:
As is standard in contracts negotiated by the Operating Engineers, the language on job classifications includes the stipulation that workers will perform some duties unrelated to their formal classifications. An electrician might help solve a plumbing problem, for example, and a carpenter might have to restart a boiler that conks out on a frigid January night when hes the person on call. As this was being discussed, I was struck full force by the exceptionally wide range of skills that most of the facilities workers possess; they truly are engineers, and its time, in fact past time, that the College to recognize them as such.
Bargaining sessions are not entirely devoted to back and forth between the two sides. At regular intervals, they separate to caucus on their own. These have been my favorite moments because theyve given me the opportunity to talk with other members of the workers team, all of whom have razor-sharp wits. And to talk with Sal Haddad, Patsy Moranu, and John Leggiero has been heartening as well as fun. They understand Sarah Lawrence very well--both the good and the bad--and their love for it is palpable. Their skill, knowledge, and commitment boost my confidence in the Colleges future.
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May 13, 2015
This session was attended by three spokespeople for the administration (Julie Auster, Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs; Maureen Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of Facilities; and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King) and eight people on the workers' side: Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero, who make up the facilities workers' bargaining committee; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; Kelly Gilbert from the student body; and Brendan McPartland, Gary Archer and Andres Puerta from IUOE Local 30. (This was Kelly's final meeting; she's now a graduate. All of us on the workers' side will miss her sorely. No one has done more to generate student support for workers' rights at Sarah Lawrence.)
As usual, Mr. McPartland was the chief negotiator for the workers, and Mr. Pascucci spoke for the administration.
The momentum we had achieved at the previous session hit a wall at this meeting. Instead of moving forward, we spent two hours debating employee status, which seems at first glance like a fairly simple matter but can actually be quite complicated at colleges and universities. At present, all twelve of the facilities workers at Sarah Lawrence are fulltime employees of the college, and the union's proposed contract envisions a continuation of that arrangement-a unit made up of fulltime employees. The administration's counterproposal defines additional categories of employees: part-timers who would be covered by the collective bargaining agreement and casual employees, temporary employees, and student employees, none of whom would be covered. Negotiators on the workers' side of course fear that the administration will seek to cut costs by transferring work from regular employees to casuals, temps, or students.
This is a valid concern. Like other institutions of higher learning, Sarah Lawrence is always looking for ways to save a dollar on labor costs, and I can report from first-hand experience that student employment is one of the tools used to achieve the savings. Although I'm now a member of the teaching faculty, Sarah Lawrence used to employ me as part of the non-professional staff. From 1978 to 1980, I ran Sarah Lawrence's Office of Student Employment. It was a low-wage position-I worked fulltime and still qualified for Food Stamps-but the lessons I learned were priceless (and I got a tuition benefit that enabled me to earn a B.A. at the college). Time and again, I recruited students to do work that was essential to the College's operation, everything from tending bar at parties at the president's mansion and staffing the circulation desk at the library to working in the business offices and assisting professors and sports coaches. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the shop paper for colleges and universities, this was par for the course. Across the higher-education sector, students were doing vital work that might have been performed by regular employees; and student employees could be hired for less than the minimum wage.
So here we are in 2015 and, to quote my beloved Yankees' Yogi Berra, it's "déjà vu all over again." Sarah Lawrence now pays student employees the New York State minimum of $8.00 an hour or, in some cases, a bit more. But they still perform vital work for a lot less than other employees would require, and they get no fringe benefits. That's not peculiar to Sarah Lawrence. It's built into the way colleges and universities operate, and so are two other low-wage strategies--the employment of casual employees and temporary employees ineligible for benefits.
In light of this, the facilities workers' bargaining committee offered proposals designed to protect students' jobs on the one hand and guarantee on the other hand that casual and temporary employment will not crowd out steady jobs. In particular, the committee proposed that temporary employment be limited to three months. Since the College's probationary period for new employees is three months, it seems reasonable that anyone employed for more than three months should be considered a regular employee, not a temp. Speaking through Ray Pascucci, the administration insisted that temporary employees should remain temps for up to four months. The rationale for this position is that, after student employees graduate, the College might wish to keep them on for up to four months. (It sad to imagine that this is the best any recent graduate could do, but it's a tough job market for sure.)
For most of the bargaining session, the two sides went back and forth on this: three months versus four months. No agreement was reached.
Still, I'm optimistic about the outcome of these negotiations,
because facilities workers (like student employees) are so essential to the
Sarah Lawrence's survival. Electricity, plumbing, heating, air conditioning,
door locks, windows: imagine a college in which none of these worked. Education
would cease. If they're sane-which seems likely, though they sometimes do foolish
things-the College's senior staff will make peace with the facilities workers
and then we can all get on to the important business of giving Sarah Lawrence
a firm foothold in the twenty-first century.
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June 8, 2015
I didn't attend this session because I was at the funeral of my dear friend, Martel Montgomery, who devoted most of her 84 years on this earth to the fight for social justice. She was a labor person through and through, as was her husband David Montgomery, who passsed in 2011. I think of them every time I have an opportunity to help working people win the respect and recognition they deserve.
The following report has been pieced together based on informayion provided by folks who attended the bargaining session:
The administration was represented by the usual team: Julie Auster, Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs; Maureen Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of Facilities; and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King. The workers side was represented by Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero (the facilities workers' bargaining committee), Spencer Goldrich from the student body, and and Gary Archer and Andres Puerta from IUOE Local 30. Brendan McPartland, the workers lead negotiator, was absent on account of a scheduling conflict, so Gary Archer did the job.
Employee status--the main topic of the preceding session--was discussed once again. This is an important issue for the workers because it protects their jobs and their union. The administrations position on this issue has been that they want the flexibility to hire students, temporary workers and casual workers to perform some of the same tasks that members of the bargaining unit performs. One of the arguments that the administration offered was that, if one of the facilities workers should be absent for an extended period on account of disability, administrators should be able to hire a temporary employee to fill in and should not be obligated to provide that employee with union rights and protections. The facilities workers explained that what usually happens when someone in their unit is on disability is that otber memebers of the unit do that individuals work. In other words, there doesnt seem to be a history of the administration hiring temporary workers in the facilities department. Similarly, when discussing student workers the administration's team stated that they wanted the flexibility to allow students to work in the facilities department throughout the year. The workers cant remember the last time a student did facilities maintenance during the academic year, so the their team pressed the administration to supply examples of students working in maintenance (mostly painting) from September to May. The reply was that that many years ago students would paint during the academic year, but that there was no recent history of that practice. Still, the administration was adamant about having that flexibility.
Ultimately, the two sides reached a tentative agreement on contract language that limits the administrations flexibility when hiring temporary workers and students. The language also includes a section that protects current facilities workers from having their jobs eliminated or reduced in any way due to the employment of temporary workers or students. The workers rejected all language addressing casual employees, something that was proposed by the administration.
Leaves of absence on account of disability will be discussed at the next session, scheduled for June 17. As noted above, in my report on the session held on April 20, the workers' proposals for short-term and long-term disability leave came straight from the employee handbook on the Human Resources Department's web pages. The administration has rejected these proposals--in effect, rejected its own policies--and put forth a counterproposal. The administration insists that there is no substantive difference between the handbook and its counter, except that the handbook is not written in contract language. The administration has also said--in April 20 and again on June 8--that the contract language on leaves of absence may replace the handbook when contract negotiations are over.
Speaking just for myself, I question the wisdom of paying a high-priced attorney to rewrite parts of the employee handbook that seem to be working just fine. There are so many ways that money could be better spent.
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June 17, 2015
This session was attended by three spokespeople for the administration (Julie Auster, Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs; Maureen Gallagher, Assistant Vice President of Facilities; and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King) and seven people on the workers' side: Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero, the facilities workers' bargaining committee; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; and Brendan McPartland, Gary Archer and Andres Puerta from IUOE Local 30. Mr. McPartland was the chief negotiator for the workers, and Mr. Pascucci spoke for the administration.
By the time I arrived at the meeting-an hour late on account of a summer-school class-the two sides had reached a tentative agreement on leaves of absence.
The rest of the meeting centered on hours of work, in particular the issue of compensation facilities workers will receive for being "on call"-ready to come to campus quickly should anything go wrong-and for coming in. (For background information, see my report on the meeting of April 20.) On-call pay matters a great deal to the facilities workers, and it's a matter of self-respect more than money per se. Initially, the administration's team insisted that being on call didn't merit compensation. On June 17, they walked that back and instead offered 50 cents an hour. It's hard to say which offer is more insulting. But I can say with certainty that there will be no tentative agreement on this issue until the administration fundamentally rethinks its position, and for the sake of the college, I hope they do that soon.
The meeting ended on a weird note-or at least it seemed weird
to me. Ray Pascucci asked whether the facilities workers wished to take part
in performance evaluations, which he described as prerequisites for the annual
raise. (To call it "annual" is quite an exaggeration since pay has
been frozen multiple times over the past seven years, but that's another story.)
What struck me as strange was Mr. Pascucci's suggestion that yearly performance
evaluations precede and somehow help to determine yearly decisions about pay.
Actually, the decisions about pay come first. This year, for example, supervisors'
recommendations with regard to raises were due at the Human Resources office
by May 8, and the new salaries were confirmed by HR in mid-June, two weeks before
performance evaluations were due at HR. Although the exact due dates have changed
a little form tear to year, decisions about raises have preceded performance
evaluations for as long as I can recall. Yes, it's a strange system, especially
since our HR office stands by the concept of merit pay for non-teaching employees.
But it's the system we have. If Mr. Pascucci doesn't know this, I've got to
wonder why. Shouldn't he have asked? Shouldn't someone have told him? And, if
he does know, why make a false assertion? As I said...weird.
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August 6, 2015
Attendance was the same as last time. Speaking for the administration were Julie Auster and Maureen Gallagher from Sarah Lawrence and Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King. On the workers' side of the table were Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero, the facilities workers' bargaining committee; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; and Brendan McPartland, Gary Archer and Andres Puerta from Local 30 of International Union of Operating Engineers. As usual, Mr. McPartland was the chief negotiator for the workers and Mr. Pascucci represented the administration.
This was not a productive meeting. Once again, we discussed the issue of payment for on-call time, and once again we came to no agreement.
When facilities workers are on call, they are expected to remain in the vicinity of the College, so that they can get to campus in a fairly short time should an emergency arise, and they are expected to refrain from any activity-such as toasting the bride and groom at a wedding-that might compromise their ability to respond to an emergency.
On weekends, a worker is typically on call for 56 hours. There is no compensation for this. Workers on call are paid only if they are summoned to campus to respond to an emergency.
Sarah Lawrence definitely needs an on-call system. It's a crucial part of the health and safety of the many students who live on campus during the school year. And precisely because the on-call system is so important, it must include fair compensation for on-call time.
When this issue first came up in negotiations, Mr. Pascucci insisted that on-call time should not be paid time because workers on call are sufficiently rewarded by the opportunity to earn extra money should they be called to campus. The workers' bargaining committee felt insulted by this assertion, and someone from the administration's committee must have had second thoughts because on June 17 the administration offered 50 cents an hour for on-call time and on August 6 it proposed 75 cents an hour-in other words $42 (minus taxes) for 56 hours of being on call.
That's not enough. So says the facilities workers' bargaining committee, and so say the workers they represent. They won't sign up for on-call assignments unless they're fairly compensated.
Mr. Pascucci needs to understand that, in the end, this is not going to go his way. At Sarah Lawrence, nothing is more important than our students' wellbeing. We will move heaven and earth to make sure they're looked after, and we won't allow a union-busting law firm to jeopardize their health and safety in the name of managerial prerogatives or cost containment.
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August 20, 2015
I didn't attend this meeting but have pieced together a report by consulting people who were there.
Once again, Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King spoke for the administration's bargaining team, which also includes Maureen Gallagher and Julie Auster, both from Sarah Lawrence. Present on the workers' side were Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, and John Leggiero, the facilities workers' bargaining committee, and Gary Archer and Brendan McPartland from the workers' union, IUOE Local 30. Brendan McPartland was their chief spokesperson.
Negotiations are moving very slowly. Although the workers would favor longer and more frequent sessions, the administration's team has insisted on meeting for just two or two and a half hours every couple of weeks. As far as I can see, that's bad for Sarah Lawrence as well as the facilities workers, but perhaps it suits Bond, Schoeneck and King, whose bill for services rendered grows larger the longer negotiations drag on.
At this particular session, the two sides reached tentative agreements on holidays, vacation time, and education benefits--all of which will remain as they're currently described in the Human Resources Department's web pages. As in the past, however, there was no agreement on workers' compensation for being on call over the weekend. The administration continues to offer 75 cents an hour for on-call time, and the workers continue to reject the offer. (For more on this issue, see the reports for the sessions on June 17 and August 6.)
Two other areas of disagreement are health insurance and retirement benefits. The administration proposes that facilities workers remain in the insurance and retirement plans offered by the college. The workers prefer to join the plans administered by the Operating Engineers, whose health insurance is more affordable and pension plan safer in that it offers a defined benefit.
Finally, there's the issue of wages. The administration is offering a raise of 2% raise or 25 cents per hour (whichever is greater) as of August 1. The workers will not accept this.
In short, these negotiations are far from over, and students who wish to express their support for the workers will have plenty of opportunities to do so. On Saturday, September 5, SLC Worker Justice--the organization that has spearheaded student support for the facilities workers--will take part in the Barbecue and Student Organization Fair on the North Lawn. Stop by the Worker Justice table if you want to get involved. Or email Hank Broege for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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September 16, 2015
This meeting was attended by the usual suspects with the addition of Hank Broege, a graduate student active in SLC Work Justice. (Worker Justice meets on Fridays at 5:00 in the North Room at the Pub, also known the Siegel Center.)
For almost all of this meeting, the workers' committee and the management committee convened in separate rooms, now and then communicating with each other via email. We've come to the hardest part of the negotiations-discussion of major economic issues, including wages, retirement benefits, health insurance. The workers' committee adjusted its original proposals on these fronts, demanding a bit less than before in hopes that this would prompt the management committee to bargain. Unfortunately, management refused to budge. It offered no change in retirement benefits, no change in health benefits, and wage increases of 2% or 25 cents an hour-in short, the same package that the workers' committee rejected several weeks ago.
This failure to bargain puzzles me. I understand Raymond Pascucci reluctance to settle; he and his law firm are making so much money at Sarah Lawrence that they naturally prefer to keep milking the cow. But officers of the College, charged with safeguarding its welfare, ought to ask themselves whether it's fiscally responsible to dance to Mr. Pascucci's tune. The monthly payments handed over to his firm would go a very long way to meeting facilities workers' needs with respect to wages and benefits. And so I invite our senior administrators to entertain the following questions: Who's the sucker, the one who responds in good faith to the wage-and-benefit demands of loyal employees of Sarah Lawrence, or the one who pays Bond, Shoeneck & King to dictate the response? Had you never hired BSK would you not be in a vastly better fiscal position to meet these employees halfway? Is the fear of losing face so great that you cannot admit a mistake (at least tacitly) and move on to a resolution of this conflict?
Another, even more distressing issue surfaced at this meeting. Shortly before it began, Julie Auster fired the College's only electrician. His name is John, he has played an especially active role in the effort to unionize the facilities department, and he was fired under what many regard as a flimsy pretext. On Saturday, August 29, John came in in work around 6:30 a.m. He had been on vacation and could have declined to work at all; instead, he decided to help the College get ready for the arriving first-years, because he is eminently loyal to Sarah Lawrence. Around 11:30 p.m.-in other words, after working for about 17 hours-John entered an elevator at Hill House, punch drunk with exhaustion and ready to go home. On the elevator wall was a poster fastened with blue tape (the kind painters use). Riding down, John and a workmate played with one of the lengths of tape, sticking it to each other in a joking way. Then John placed the tape on the lens of the security camera in the elevator. Distracted as he exited the elevator, he forgot to remove the tape from the camera. Two days later, the campus security department noticed that the view from the lens was obscured and reviewed the video tape. John was then called in, interrogated, and finally fired on the grounds that his action compromised student safety. In my opinion, BSK's fingerprints are all over this decision, but whatever the decision's origins, its ramifications for the College are not good. Sarah Lawrence has now fired an individual who worked more than a double shift out of loyalty to the College, and the contention that this was all about preserving student safety rings hollow in light of the many neglected safety issues on campus--the fact that the windows in ground-floor offices, lounges and classrooms are not all equipped with the coverings to offer protection in case of an armed intruder, the fact that that some walkways are pocked with hazardous holes, the fact that the garbage compacter is often left on and unattended...and the list goes on. The International Union of Operating Engineers is pushing to reverse John's dismissal. From the facilities workers' standpoint, it's suspicious to say the least that an individual so active in the union would be fired for an infraction that seems to call for nothing more than a reprimand. In other words, this is not over.
And what can you do to nudge things in the right direction?
As the union moves to defend John, members of the Sarah Lawrence community are
expressing solidarity with him by wearing swatches of blue tape on their chests.
According to the college's personnel regulations, John can appeal his firing,
and the President or her designee will have the final word.
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September 21, 2015
This meeting was attended by the usual participants, minus Brendan McPartland from the IUOE. Again, the worker and management committees spent most of the session in separate rooms, communicating by email. By the end we had reached tentative agreements on several items, including overtime pay and shop stewards' pay for time spent in labor-management meetings held during the workday. The major issues that remain unsettled include wages, health insurance, retirement benefits, and payment for on-call time.
As we met indoors, students from SLC Worker Justice held a silent demonstration on the Andrews lawn, inspiring all of us on the workers' committee. It's been a long slog and it's not over yet, but we know we're on the right side of history-the one that will ultimately prevail. The students reminded us of that.
Another reminder came in the form of Pope Francis's visit to the United States. Unsurprisingly, he's a fan of labor unions. Here's his most famous statement on the subject: "Trade unions have been an essential force for social change, without which a semblance of a decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism." And he's not the only pope to utter such words. According to Pope Paul VI, "The important role of union organizations must be admitted: their object is the representation of the various categories of workers, their lawful collaboration in the economic advance of society, and the development of the sense of their responsibility for the realization of the common good." Pope John Paul II regarded unions as an "indispensable element of social life, especially in modern industrialized societies."
Other religious traditions offer us similar declarations. The Baptist minister Martin Luther King, Jr., regarded the labor movement as "the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress." The Presbyterian Church proclaims that, "All workers-including undocumented, migrant and farm workers-have the right to choose to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining." From Methodists and Episcopalians to Lutherans and Disciples of Christ, other Protestant churches agree. The Unitarians have this to say: "The Unitarian Universalist Association urges its member congregations and individual Unitarian Universalists in the United States...to work specifically in favor of mechanisms such as: reform of labor legislation and employment standards to provide greater protection for workers, including the right to organize and bargain collectively, protection from unsafe working conditions and protection from unjust dismissal." From the Central Council of American Rabbis come these words: "Jewish leaders, along with our Catholic and Protestant counterparts, have always supported the labor movement and the rights of employees to form unions for the purpose of engaging in collective bargaining and attaining fairness in the workplace." Jewish scripture (Avot 1:10) advises us to "Love labor and hate mastery and seek not acquaintance with the ruling power." Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations affirms that "The employer-worker relationship must be based on justice and mutual consent honoring the dignity of the worker." The Islamic theologian Muzammil H. Siddiqi of the Fiqh Council of North America specifies that "workers in Islam have a right to exercise the freedom of association and the right to form unions." Sensei Sevan Ross of the Chicago Zen Center writes that, "From a Buddhist perspective it is not quite enough to say that we each are our brother's keeper. We need to feel instead that we actually are our brother. And from this, fair treatment flows naturally. There is then what we Buddhists call Right Livelihood--mutually productive work, with everyone being treated fairly, everyone being treated Right." In Ohio, an interfaith association of Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities has come together to support workers' rights to collective bargaining.
For more examples of faith communities' support for labor unions, explore the website of Interfaith Worker Justice, a national organization based in Chicago: http://www.iwj.org/ Here's a photo of one of its demonstrations:
And let's not forget that secular humanists also support the right to organize. Perhaps the most eloquent testament to that fact is Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which outlines workers' rights and ends with these words: "Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions...." Eleanor Roosevelt, the main architect of the Declaration, had this to say about organizing on the job: "I have always felt that it was important that everyone who was a worker join a labor organization."
In short, the contract negotiations between our facilities workers
and our administrators involve grave matters of principle. The students from
SLC Worker Justice already know that. Let's hope that our senior administrators
soon figure it out.
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October 14, 2015
All of the usual participants attended save for Gary Archer of the IUOE. Once again Ray Pascucci spoke for the college's administration and Brendan McPartland represented the facilities workers.
We came close to reaching a tentative agreement on the employer's responsibilities with regard to providing the tools that the workers need to perform their jobs, reimbursing them the purchase of safety footwear, and supplying them with or reimbursing them for for work clothing. As these matters were being discussed a safety issue arose that will surely come up again. Facilities workers sometimes come into contact with hazardous substances such as solvents, leaded paint, or friable asbestos (that is, asbestos that can easily be crumbled). For this reason, Mr. McPartland proposed that the college retain a laundry service to clean the work clothing, thus making sure that facilities employees don't take the clothing home and risk exposing their families to workplace hazards. Mr. Pascucci would have none of this, so the only solution is to make sure that all hazards are removed from the campus or, in the case of friable asbestos, suitably contained. That will now become an issue at the bargaining table.
Lunch breaks were also discussed, with much heat and no tentative agreement. The administration proposed several alterations to the current arrangement, under which facilities workers get a 30-minute unpaid lunch break and may be called back to work should an emergency arise. Naturally, the workers believe that unpaid breaks should not be interrupted, but they also understand that emergencies involving the physical plant may need immediate attention, so at an earlier session they had proposed that the lunch breaks become paid time, which would be a very reasonable compromise in light of the fact that the workday for facilities workers is an hour longer than it is for for most of the college's employees. Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected out of hand. Instead, the administration proposed on October 14 that lunch breaks be staggered, facilities workers eating lunch in two shifts so that there is always someone on duty to cover emergencies. To this the workers' committee generously agreed, although they would prefer to continue the longstanding practice of eating lunch together. However, they could not agree to two additional things the administration proposed with regard to lunch breaks. The first proposal was that management have the right to change the time of a worker's lunch break up to the very moment the break begins. The second proposal was that facilities workers--unlike any others on the campus--punch a time clock at the beginning of their lunch breaks and at the end, despite the fact that the clock and the dining room where they usually eat are separated by about a quarter of a mile and a steep hill.
These petty provocations on management's part doubtless have
a serious purpose. As Mr. Pascucci knows, one year after workers elect a union
to represent them, the National Labor Relations Board will permit the same bargaining
unit to dis-elect the union--it's called decertification. This is why law firms
like Bond, Schoeneck & King like to drag out the bargaining for a first
contract; they're hoping for a decertification. That's not going to work in
this case, just as it didn't work last fall when BS&K supplied the college
with letters and leaflets to send to the facilities workers to warn them not
to vote for the union. On November 21, 2014, the tally in the union's favor
was 11 to 1; and although dismissals have reduced the former number, the anti-union
vote is no bigger now than it was back then. All in all, then, I'm optimistic,
although it's most definitely annoying to see how poorly facilities workers
have been treated in these negotiations. Any employees who are so important
to the college's operation that they have to eat lunch in shifts deserve much
better than that.
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October 21, 2015
All of the usual participants were there, including Gary Archer.
The administration's team presented an amended proposal regarding lunch breaks. It calls for three lunch shifts instead of two and eliminates the proviso that management may change lunchtimes at the eleventh hour. To this the workers will agree--reluctantly, to be sure, but agree nonetheless. But they will not agree to the administration's continuing demand that they punch a time clock at the beginning and end of every lunch break. For one thing, the demand seems discriminatory since no other campus employees are expected to document their lunch breaks in this manner. Facilities workers feel that they've been singled out for punishment because they affiliated with a labor union, and the evidence does indeed point in that direction. In the end, moreover, implementation of the administration's proposal would probably harm the college as well as facilities workers. For one thing, timeclocks would have to be installed in all of the venues where food is served, and that would be expensive. For another thing, the punch-out system would require that workers finish their lunch breaks in close proximity to a time clock, which would not necessarily be anywhere near the spot where they need to work after lunch. Projects scheduled for the afternoon would be delayed, all because management sought to make a point it shouldn't have tried to make in the first place. That matters to the workers because they love the college and wish to provide the best possible service.
Bottom line: the smart move on the administration's part would be to pay facilities workers during their lunch breaks and interrupt the breaks as needed. The workers would happily agree to this, but Ray Pascucci--who has no long-term investment in the college's welfare--won't hear of it. It pains me to see Sarah Lawrence pay the price when its lawyer's ego gets in the way of intelligent negotiation, this is the pass we've come to. Let's hope our senior administrators rethink this situation.
At the very end of the session we reached a tentative agreement
on a contract clause titled "Tools, Safety, Shoes, and Clothing."
This is the same clause that we almost TA'ed last week, but this time around
it generated a truly passionate debate. The issue was deceptively simple: whereas
the administrative team proposed a contract clause that obligates the college
to provide facilities workers with "all tools and all safety equipment
in accordance with OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] standards,"
the union team proposed that this clause specifically mention "personal
protective equipment." This revision struck Ray Pascucci as small potatoes,
and he made that crystal clear. For the IUOE, on the other hand, health and
safety issues cut right to the bone. (I'm especially aware of that because my
son, Max Schultz, who earned his B.A. at Sarah Lawrence in 1996, is an engineer
who belongs to the IUOE in northern California, and he counts on his union to
safeguard him on the job and make sure that his family is not exposed to any
toxic substances he might encounter at work.) Brendan McPartland, Andres Puerta
and, especially, Gary Archer, offered some choice words on the question of health
and safety and, after much resistance, the administration finally agreed to
a clause that identifies "personal protective equipment" as part of
the gear that workers will receive. As one of the facilities workers observed,
the administration's bargaining team doesn't seem deeply concerned about workers'
health and safety; every time the subject come up, Mr. Pascucci either changes
the subject or insists that there's nothing to worry about. But health
and safety are issues on which the IUOE fights tooth and nail, and they thus
become crucial issues at the bargaining table.
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November 2, 2015
All of the usual participants were there save for Gary Archer. As usual, Ray Pascucci spoke for the college's senior administrators. Although Brendan McPartland remained the chief negotiator for IUOE the facilities workers, the workers also spoke for themselves, chiefly to express their frustration at the administration's failure to bargain in good faith on wages and benefits such as health insurance and pensions.
According to Mr. Pascucci, "fairness" demands that facilities workers settle for the same annual raises and benefit packages that the college's other employees receive. If fairness were the bedrock of wage and benefit policies at the college, things would be very different than they are. Facilities workers would get the same one-hour lunch break that other employees get and no one would propose that they punch a time clock before and after lunch. All of us--professors on the tenure track, guest professors, administrators at various levels, staff members, student workers--would receive roughly equal pay for equal work. Annual raises would not be calculated on a percentage basis, which means that the most highly-paid people get the biggest increases. We would not have a multi-tier benefit system: full tuition remission for undergraduate studies at Sarah Lawrence for the dependent children of employees hired before June 1, 2013, but just one-half tuition remission for the children of employees hired on or after that date; a 75% tuition remission at the Early Childhood Center for employees whose children enrolled at the ECC before June 1, 2013, and a 25% remission for those whose children enrolled on or after that date; a college-tuition cash grant for employees' children that that caps at $10,000 for employees hired on or after June 1, 2013, but can go higher for those hired before that date; one form of medical coverage for retirees hired before June 1, 2005, and at least 40 years old by that date and another, lesser form of coverage for employees hired after on or June 1, 2005, or under 40 years old by that date; four weeks of paid vacation for administrators after one year of employment but just two weeks for staff members after one year.
No matter how often it's repeated, the word "fairness" cannot transform a frog into a prince; the refusal to bargain is a naked power play, not a glorious defense of equality. Really, folks, we're all smart enough to figure that out, so let's move forward and keep the hypocrisy to a minimum. To drag out negotiations like this merely hurts the college we love.
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November 12, 2015
I had to miss the meeting, but all of the other usual participants were there, and several of them helped me compose this report. The discussion focused on core economics, but the management side was clearly unprepared for serious negotiation on that topic.
Ray Pascucci, management's chief spokesperson, claimed that wages for facilities workers at Sarah Lawrence are comparable to those at similar colleges and, to prove this assertion, he distributed copies of collective bargaining agreements covering facilities departments at three schools: Skidmore College, Hamilton College and Vassar College. According to Mr. Pascucci, these are the schools with whom Sarah Lawrence competes for students and faculty members. (Actually, that's not true of Hamilton; but, okay, the man's not an expert on such things.) The workers' negotiating team pointed out quite rightly that Skidmore (in Saratoga Springs, New York) and Hamilton (in Clinton, New York) are located in places where the cost of living is vastly lower than it is in Sarah Lawrence's neck of the woods. That left Vassar, in Poughkeepsie, New York, a town of about 30,000 located in Dutchess County, approximately 65 miles north of Sarah Lawrence. According to the U.S. Census of 2010, the median household income in Poughkeepsie is $39,528, and private-sector statisticians put the cost of living in Poughkeepsie at about 10% above the national average. In Yonkers, New York, where Sarah Lawrence is located, the population is about 200,000, the median household income is $56,782, and the cost of living stands at about 50% above the national average. To match Vassar's standard, Sarah Lawrence would have to pay its facilities workers about 35% more than their counterparts earn in Poughkeepsie. In a spirit of compromise, the workers' team proposed a differential of just 10%. The management side answered with a resounding no, but Mr. Pascucci went further than that. Read on....
Retreating from the claim that Hamilton, Skidmore and Vassar should set the standard, Mr. Pascucci distributed a collective bargaining agreement from the College of New Rochelle. This agreement, he said, "sets the market" for facilities workers at colleges in Westchester County. That's a ridiculous statement, as Mr. Pascucci surely knows. For one thing, the bargaining unit at the College of New Rochelle doesn't match the one at Sarah Lawrence; it includes both housekeeping and maintenance workers. (Sarah Lawrence outsourced its housekeeping jobs in the 1970s, when the workers organized a union.) Besides, a relatively small employerlike the College of New Rochelle does not "set the market" in a place as populous as Westchester county. The onlymost accurate way to gauge the market in Westchester is to consult the Prevailing Wage figures calculated by the U.S. Department of Labor, based on its surveys. But Mr. Pascucci's ploy also involved a gross misstatement of fact. The bargaining agreement he distributed expired in 2012, and he assured the meeting that wages have not increased since then. WRONG. Just a few minutes of fact-checking revealed to me that housekeeping and maintenance workers at the College of New Rochelle recently won a new agreement that involves substantial wage increases in addition to health insurance at no cost to employees. Mr. Pascucci's misrepresentation of the situation at the College of New Rochelle may have been based on ignorance as opposed to dishonesty. Either way, it strikes me as a travesty that he is the chief negotiator for Sarah Lawrence.
I must thank him, however, for prompting me to do some research on the College of New Rochelle, because there are a number of things Sarah Lawrence might learn from this school. CNR is not by any means a wealthy institution. The college was founded in the early twentieth century by Roman Catholic nuns from the Order of Saint Ursula, whose American branches had dedicated themselves to the education of girls and women, including girls and women of color. (In the antebellum South, for example, Ursulines had defied the law to teach enslaved girls to read.) For many years, the Ursuline sisters ran CNR pretty much by themselves. Now laypeople are in charge, but the Ursulines' inclusive spirit persists. Although its assets are about one-quarter the size of those Sarah Lawrence possesses, the College of New Rochelle has managed to build a remarkably diverse student body. A full 75% of CNR undergraduates have family incomes low enough to make them eligible for federal Pell Grants. In the undergraduate School of Arts and Sciences-which remains an all-female institution-35% of the students are women of African descent and another 33% are Latinas. Women of color also predominate in CNR's co-educational divisions: the School of Nursing, the School of New Resources (for adult students), and the Graduate School. Through its School of New Resources, CNR also reaches out to working people off campus, offering degree programs at sites in Bedford Stuyvesant, in the Bronx, in Harlem, and in lower Manhattan at the headquarters of District Council 37 of the American, Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. This last program, established in 1972, is the country's oldest college-degree program offered at a union headquarters. For all of these reasons, the College of New Rochelle is generally well regarded in labor circles, and the feeling is mutual. In 2007, CNR awarded an honorary degree to the AFL-CIO's president, John Sweeney. Even friends of labor sometimes need to be persuaded to do the right thing. It took a year of tough negotiations for housekeping and maintence workers to arrive at a new agreement with CNR, and the workers had to make clear that they were willing to strike. But the settlement--at a college whose financial challenges are much larger than those faced by Sarah Lawrence--shows that it, it doesn't require great riches to put your money where your mouth is with respect to social justice; you just need a good set of priorities.
As the November 12 meeting at Sarah Lawrence drew to a close, the management team offered to raise facilities workers' pay by 5 cents an hour. That does not speak well for our senior administrators' priorities. They need to recalibrate.
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November 30, 2015
All the usual participants were at this meeting. Once again, the talk focused on compensation--wages, health insurance, and retirement benefits--and, once again, the discussion led to no tentative agreements. It was nonetheless illuminating.
Early in the session, Ray Pascucci announced that, when he speaks, he speaks "for the college" and is entitled to do so not only because the college has retained his law firm but also because he and other members of the administration's bargaining team meet to discuss all of the issues on the table. Since neither of his teammates contradicted that assertion it seemed they agreed. That set the stage for a thought-provoking discussion of employee earnings at Sarah Lawrence.
In response to the union's proposal (at the session on November 12) that facilities workers at Sarah Lawrence earn wages comparable to those of facilities workers at Vassar, Mr. Pascucci passed out a table that contrasts faculty salaries at Sarah Lawrence to faculty salaries at the colleges we regard as peers. I've seen tables like this one many times before; senior administrators routinely give them to faculty committees. This time, however, there is a new heading above the table. It reads (in boldface), "Sarah Lawrence pay rates have always been at or near the bottom of pay rates provided by our Peer Schools due to Sarah Lawrence's unique history and far lower endowment than other comparable schools, as demonstrated by the following wage data." Below that lies a list of faculty salaries at various levels (assistant professor, associate professor, full professor and their equivalents) at Sarah Lawrence and twelve other schools: Barnard College, Wesleyan University, Smith College, Vassar College, Bard College, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, Oberlin College, Mount Holyoke College, Skidmore College, Reed College, and Hampshire College. Sure enough, when it comes to salaries, those of us who teach at Sarah Lawrence fall far below the norm for these schools. Full professors are at the very bottom, associate professors second from the bottom and assistant professors third from the bottom. Were we to factor in cost of living--which is far higher in our neck of the woods than in the communities where most of our peer schools are located--we'd be at rock bottom across the board and by a sizable margin. (I'll send a copy of this salary table to anyone who contacts me by email: email@example.com.)
After giving these data a chance to sink in, Mr. Pascucci announced--in a tone most accurately described as triumphant--that, as the faculty salaries presumably show, "We've never even tried in any of our positions to match what Vassar pays." That assertion struck me with such force that I wrote it down verbatim--and noted that there was no murmur of disagreement from our Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs.
If not trying is the policy, that would explain a lot, but it would also belie a promise made by our senior administrators--not a wistful assurance that they hope someday to pay employees what they're worth, but a written pledge in no less a document that the Strategic Plan the college hammered out in 2010, which reads in part: "As Sarah Lawrence moves to establish a sustainable economic and operational foundation, we have set as one of our highest priorities a return to a policy of annual increases at or above inflation beginning in 2011-12. The College is also strongly committed to improving faculty and staff compensation, with the goal of bringing compensation to the median of our peer institutions, taking into consideration the cost of living in the New York metropolitan area, by the year 2020. Generating the resources needed to support this will be dependent on the success of the planned capital campaign." Regrettably, cost-of-living increases have not materialized every year since 2011-2012, but our senior administrators have several times restated their commitment to lifting Sarah Lawrence wages and salaries to the median for peer institutions. Lately, moreover, we've been told that the capital campaign is charging forward, so naturally many of us have assumed that substantial pay increases are in the offing. Mr. Pascucci's statement now casts doubt on the Strategic Plan's reliability as an expression of the administration's priorities.
And so I pose this question: who speaks for Sarah Lawrence with regard to employee compensation? Do our senior administrators stand by priorities outlined in the Strategic Plan? Or do they stand by Mr. Pascucci's assertion that the college "has never even tried" to match Vassar?
On the subject of matching, I report as well that several readers have sent me information that approaches the issue from a different standpoint, that of executive pay. (To explore the figures, visit this web page at the Chronicle of Higher Education, which offers information about executive compensation at Sarah Lawrence and all of its peer schools: http://chronicle.com/interactives/executive-compensation#id=14808_195304_2013_private.) It turns out that, although faculty compensation at Sarah Lawrence falls significantly below that at our peer schools, our CEO's salary falls smack dab in the middle. Total compensation for the presidents of Hampshire, Reed, Oberlin, Mount Holyoke, Bard and Smith is lower than the total compensation for Sarah Lawrence's president. Total compensation for the presidents of Barnard, Wesleyan, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Haverford and Skidmore is higher. By some standards, this is a depressing fact; no employee like to feel that she or he is required to make sacrifices that aren't being made by the boss as well. But we might also put a more positive spin on the situation. If our president can reach the median, so can other employees. As the Strategic Plan suggests, it's a matter of priorities.
Sometimes those of us who work for Sarah Lawrence refer to it
as a "plantation," a workplace that privileges people at the top at
the expense of people at the bottom. Instead, I think of Sarah Lawrence as a
community that will in the end do the right thing. I just wish we'd hurry up
in this instance. The longer the plantation mentality prevails, the more it
will tear us apart.
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December 15, 2015
Speaking for the administration were Julie Auster and Maureen Gallagher from Sarah Lawrence and--the chief spokesman--Raymond Pascucci from Bond, Schoeneck & King. On the workers' side of the table were Sal Haddad and Patsy Morano from the facilities workers' bargaining committee; Priscilla Murolo from the faculty; Hank Broege from the student body; and Brendan McPartland, Gary Archer and Andres Puerta from Local 30 of International Union of Operating Engineers. Though Mr. McPartland was the chief negotiator for the workers' side, other spoke up as well. Again, we focused on compensation--this time wages in particular--and, again, we made little to no headway. Mr. Pascucci and company did concede that workers in the same job classifications should receive the same pay, and that the most highly-paid member of each group should be the pace-setter. However, since the most highly-paid facilities workers at Sarah Lawrence earn signifcantly less than the norm for Westchester County or for the college's peer schools, members of this bargaining unit are looking for a lot more equality within the unit. Instead, they want something at least in the neighborhood of the prevailing wage for the work they do. And so we will continue to negotiate....
In the meantime, Sarah Lawrence students--members of the Worker Justice group--organized a demonstration that coincided with the college's graduation ceremonies. Participants included students, facilities workers, and memebers of the IUOE in Westchester. I did not attend either event--the graduation or the demonstration--but one of the demonstrators sent me the photograph below. As you'll see, even the Boxer dogs are on our side, so how can we lose?
Happy holidays to all. Remember, Christmas celebrates the birth of a carpenter, not a boss.
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January 13, 2016
This was the 22nd bargaining session, and yet we are far from done. The usual group assembled except for Hank Broege. Gary Archer has left the bargaining team to fill a different post at the IUOE.
Job descriptions for maintenance workers at long last materialized, and we spent most of the meeting discussing their contents to correct typos and clarify confusing passages. One thing that especially struck me as we pored over the descriptions is that almost all of them specify that the employee must not only see to a particular job (mechanic, plumber, locksmith, etc.) but also "Perform other maintenance work and assist others as directed." That's not surprising; when a small group of workers must maintain a large number of buildings, everyone needs an exceptionally broad skill set. But these contract bargaining sessions often give me the impression that our senior administrators don't recognize that maintenance work at Sarah Lawrence requires such breadth and that facilities workers must be compensated accordingly.
Another striking testament to facilities workers' value to the College is that every job description includes the following: "Several times a year (approx. 6-8 weekends) there is mandatory on-call weekend coverage." In other words, a good portion of what these workers do is too critical to be put off for a day or two--and too specialized to be assigned to graduate assistants, who may share on-call duties in other departments, such as Student Affairs. And so, senior administrators, how about a little more respect for facilities workers? Surely, they deserve to be compensated just as fairly as you compensate yourselves.
A postscript written during the blizzard of January 23: This is the one-year anniversary of our Teach-In in Honor of Martin Luther King, at which Michael Moore (father of a Sarah Lawrence graduate) joined a panel of facilities workers, students, faculty members, and others from the Operating Engineers and the journal Labor Notes. Here's the photograph that adorned our flyer for the event. It's worth a thousand words.
The panel at the teach-in called on Sarah Lawrence's senior
administrators to sever ties with Bond, Schoeneck & King; allow students
and faculty members to observe contract negotiations; and sign a contract no
later than May 2015. None of this has happened. That there is still no agreement
in sight, that the administration is still paying Bond, Shoeneck & King,
that it continues to stonewall with regard to wages and benefits: this has created
a sore that won't heal until the facilities workers get a just contract. Far
be it from me to tell anyone exactly how to preserve a college, but it does
seem that we'd do better to stop trying to dazzle the trustees and get down
to the more responsible business of wrapping up negotiations so that we can
together move on.
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February 1, 2016
The usual group met: Julie Auster, Maureen Gallagher and Raymond Pascucci represented the administration; on the facilities workers' side were Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, John Leggiero, Hank Broege, Priscilla Murolo, Andres Puerta and Brendan McPartland.
The administration's side passed out revised job descriptions for facilities workers. The main difference between these new descriptions and the earlier ones is that the former omit references to hours of work. Ray Pascucci doubtless recommended that omission, which expresses management's prerogative to define workers' starting and stopping times in whatever way it sees fit. Sometimes a boss just wants to...well, show you who's boss.
Then came Act II of this same show; the administration's side presented a packet of counters to the workers' proposals regarding hours of work, retirement benefits, insurance benefits, wages and "ANY OTHER UNION PROPOSALS THAT HAVE NOT BEEN WITHDRAWN." Yes, this was printed in capital letters, and so was the following announcement on the packet's front page: "THE COLLEGE HAS REACHED THE POINT WHERE IT WILL NO LONGER AGREE TO PIECE MEAL TENTATIVE AGREEMENTS. ALL REMAINING OPEN ISSUES ARE NOW BEING TREATED AS A PACKAGE, SO THAT AGREEMENT ON ANY ONE PROPOSED ITEM IS CONDITIONED UPON ALL OTHER PROPOSED ITEMS." (The stylistic purists among my readers will shudder at the fact that "piecemeal" appeared here as two words instead of one, at the use of the passive voice, which sidesteps questions about agency, and at the needlessly grandiose "upon," when "on" would have sufficed. Clearly, Ray Pascucci might benefit from studying writing at Sarah Lawrence.)
But let's focus on substance instead of style: It always bugs me when the administration's team refers to itself as "the College" (or in this case "THE COLLEGE") because Sarah Lawrence is vastly more than its administration--and in many respects more than its administrators can even fathom. Not long after this meeting, moreover, Julie Auster announced that she will soon leave Sarah Lawrence, and one of the deans has told me that she'll be joining the administration of another school, so I'm all the more bugged. If Julie Auster has decided to make her exit and Ray Pascucci is here only because his law firm assigned him to the job, how on earth can we take them seriously as guardians of Sarah Lawrence's welfare?
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February 22, 2016
This was the 24th bargaining session. The usual group met except for John Leggiero. The usual things occurred, which is to say that the workers' once again modified wage and health-insurance proposals to make them more affordable for the College, and the administration's spokesman-led by Ray Pascucci of Bond, Shoeneck & King-responded by offering to raise hourly wages by 2% or 35¢ (whichever is higher), starting August 1, 2016. Then Mr. Pascucci compounded the insult by asserting that maintenance workers at Sarah Lawrence need not be paid the local median wages for their trades because they are "less skilled" than their counterparts in Westchester County. The session resulted in no tentative agreements.
On the following Friday, February 26, the maintenance worker' union--Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers--hosted a rally at the corner of Kimball and Glen Washington. Though a brisk wind made the falling temperature all the more bone-chilling, a lively spirit prevailed among the many who came out in support of the maintenance workers. A giant inflatable rat marked the gathering place. (In the English-speaking world "rat" as been a name applied to anti-union employers for more than 150 years.) IUOE members from across the county showed up, as did a couple of faculty members and a much larger contingent of students with homemade signs. A number of the students spoke to the crowd, and their eloquence truly moved me. As they weigh their options, Sarah Lawrence's senior administrators need to recognize that quite a few union families send their children to our college, and these apples don't fall far from the tree--they'll do whatever it takes to support campus workers.
Another aspect of the rally that I found especially encouraging was the presence of delegation from the Yonkers local of the International Association of Firefighters, which is exceptionally active in municipal politics. They were joined by Councilman Christopher Johnson, who pledged to use his power as a public official to help Sarah Lawrence's senior administrators to see the light. Finally, a spokesman for Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, which represents the College's custodial workers (employed by the contractor ABM Janitorial Services), announced that, should maintenance workers be compelled to strike to get a decent contract, members of 32BJ will not cross picket lines. Meanwhile, throughout the rally, drivers of the passing cars honked their support.
Here's my takeaway: Despite the pretentious stationery that lists a Bronxville address, Sarah Lawrence is located in Yonkers, and Yonkers is a union town. That would be a good thing for our senior administrators and board of trustees to remember, because you never know when Sarah Lawrence will need another favor from the City of Yonkers, which has helped the college on a number of occasions in the past.
One more thing that I really must add, though I've tried to
avoid tit-for-tat arguments in this blog: Last week, no doubt in preparation
for the trustees' meeting, the administration sent the entire campus community
a long self-justification with respect to labor negotiations. The final paragraph
reads: "Rest assured that Sarah Lawrence values the contributions of our
maintenance staff, we fully respect their right to unionize, and we are dedicated
to being as supportive and fair toward them as we can be, given all of the circumstances
that must be taken into account. We remain hopeful that continued good faith
negotiations will result in a multi-year labor agreement covering our maintenance
staff in the near future." I simply cannot accept these assurances because
I don't suffer from amnesia. In October 2014, just hours after our senior
administrators learned that the maintenance staff was unionizing, they retained
Bond, Shoeneck & King. BSK was not called in to negotiate a contract;
it was called in to derail the union organizing, which the firm advertises as
one of its labor division's specialties. When this plan didn't work--when maintenance
workers voted 11 to one in favor of the union--our administrators doubled down
on the original mistake, and BSK assumed a new mission: to make contract negotiations
move so slowly and bear so little fruit for the maintenance workers that they
and any other employees who are watching will lose interest in unionism. This
is another one of BSK's specialties. So, to me, pretty words about valuing the
staff, respecting their rights, and good faith negotiations are just a lot of
blah, blah, blah... and more than a little insulting to our intelligence as
Now, on an entirely more pleasant note, here are several photographs of the rally on February 26:
Part of the student contingent
Yonkers Councilman Christopher Johnson
The purple jackets of the Service Employees International Union
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March 4, 2016
The 25th bargaining session: same participants as last time, but stranger results.
On February 1, Ray Pascucci had presented the workers' bargaining team with a set of proposals headed by this statement: THE COLLEGE HAS REACHED THE POINT WHERE IT WILL NO LONGER AGREE TO PIECE MEAL TENTATIVE AGREEMENTS. ALL REMAINING OPEN ISSUES ARE NOW BEING TREATED AS A PACKAGE, SO THAT AGREEMENT ON ANY ONE PROPOSED ITEM IS CONDITIONED UPON ALL OTHER PROPOSED ITEMS." I found this declaration puzzling, since earlier sessions had not even touched on all of the unresolved issues. I did, however, take it as a serious statement of intent. As it turned out, I was wrong.
A short while into the session on March 4, Mr. Pascucci-who has stated time and again that he will not discuss hypotheticals-presented the workers' team with what he described as a "hypothetical." It wasn't really a "proposal," he said, but more like a "supposition." Really, he seemed at a loss for words, but the gist was this: if facilities workers were perchance willing to forfeit their one week of spring-break vacation time, the college might perchance be willing to raise their pay by an amount that would precisely offset this forfeiture of time off. But, Mr. Pascucci underscored again, this was not really a proposal and not really on the table. Of course, the discussion went nowhere, and so he announced he was taking the "hypothetical" off the table.
At the end of the session, things got weirder still. Mr. Pascucci suddenly presented the workers' team with the same set of proposals we saw on February 1, but in this case it was labeled a "LAST, BEST AND FINAL OFFER." This is a tool that employers use to gin up evidence that bargaining has reached an impasse and they are thus within their rights to implement whatever offer they made before the impasse. In this case, not everything has been discussed-health insurance has hardly been touched on, for example-so to declare an impasse is premature at best. As noted, however, this "last, best and final" is a tool, not a reflection of fact.
My guess is that one of the goals here is to push facilities
workers toward decertifying the Operating Engineers as their bargaining agent.
That will never happen; the unit is too cohesive and tired of being undervalued.
But I'm still sorry to see Mr. Pascucci brandish the "last, best and final"
tool, which can do considerable damage to our college.
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April 1, 2016
I didn't make this meeting, nor did Hank Broege, and Julie Auster left her job the previous day. Steve Schaefer (VP for finances) took her place. Others at the bargaining session were Maureen Gallagher and Raymond Pascucci representing the administration, and Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, Andres Puerta and Brendan McPartland on the workers' side.
Although the union was ready to negotiate, Ray Pascucci was not. He has decided simply to stand pat, and the administration is follwing his lead. This has pushed the workers into a protest scheduled for Monday, April 11, the first Admitted Students Day for this spring. Student supporters were originally planning to raise the stakes by blocking traffic that day, but Local 30 has persuaded them that a quiet presence wil be more effective. The whole thing could be avoided if any responsible spokesperson for the College were to contact the union and talk about reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. The union's proposal could be implemented for under $112,000, so I cannot see why a spokesperson has not stepped forward, and I continue to hope that this will happen.
In the meantime, I have contacted Andres Puerta to ask for a statement on the upcoming protest. Here is his response:
We are planning on having a presence on campus on Monday,
April 11, to protest the administration's failed approach to negotiations with
the maintenance workers. We have scaled back our protest from a loud and large
demonstration to a presence. We made this choice because the support of faculty
and staff is important to the maintenance workers and our union and we do not
want to lose any of that support. We still believe we must protest and here
Our last, on April 1, opened with a "last, best and final" (LBF) offer that was delivered by Ray Pascucci, the attorney hired by SLC at the beginning of this campaign and chief spokesperson for the College. The economics of the LBF are not serious. Aside from the 2% campus wide wage increase last summer and whatever small increase the administration plans for next summer, only four workers would see any economic gain and that is because the union repeatedly demanded wage parity within job classifications and the administration finally agreed. Basically, every maintenance worker with the same title as others will receive the same wage. In our view this should never have had to be negotiated in the first place because people doing the same work should be compensated the same.
On April 1 the union made clear that our goal is to reach a fair agreement and move on. In fact, we came to the table with a proposal that would cost the college $112,000 for the entire unit of twelve maintenance workers. This is significantly less than the cost of our earlier proposals. Included in our proposal is a union-sponsored health insurance package that would cost the administration more than $50,000 less than it now spends on health insurance for these workers. Under this package, the workers would be charged nothing. With regard to wages the union's proposal is just north of the wage rates under Vassar's contract with maintenance workers. Several months ago, Ray Pascucci gave us the Vassar contract as an example of an agreement at a peer institution, which Vassar certainly is. We want an agreement comparable to theirs. As we have made clear, however, that requires slightly higher wages at Sarah Lawrence because the cost of living in Dutchess County is lower than it is in Westchester.
The administration's response to our proposal on April was simply no. They did not dispute our calculations; they did not disagree that the health insurance proposal would save the college money; they did not offer a counterproposal on wages. They simply said that the College's last proposal is what "we are willing to pay" and that the union would have to propose a package that is "very, very close" to that proposal to be considered. Ray Pascucci also offered up that, if the union could propose something that would cost less than the College's offer, they would consider it. We laughed because that is ridiculous, but this how these negotiations have been going. I should add that we asked the administration to give us a number that would get this deal done, in other words, what is the total economic increase that the College can live with to make a deal. We pressed them on this - "just give us a number so we can try to figure this out." The response was that they don't have a number and that their last, best and final offer reflects what they are willing to pay. Again, this was rightfully rejected. The Vassar agreement came up one more time when Ray stated that Sarah Lawrence College has never paid anyone what peer institutions pay. This is a point he has made before. We are puzzled that this is a point of pride for the administration.
So here is where we are - the workers are proposing wages similar to those at Vassar in Dutchess County and a health insurance package that costs less than Sarah Lawrence pays now. The administration is just saying no, no, no. This convinces us that our failure to get an agreement has little to do with the College's finances. (After all, how much has SLC paid Ray Pascucci over the last 18 months or so? We bet it's "very, very close" to, or even more, than what it would take to settle this.) We believe that the College's obstinacy has more to do with sending a message to the rest of the SLC community that unionizing will not produce higher standards or better working conditions. This is what you get when you hire a union avoidance law firm like BSK- the issue becomes union avoidance rather than a contract and good relationships with workers. This isn't our first time at this dance; we've heard this awful music before.
Salim Haddad is on our bargaining committee. He is a mechanic and has been working at SLC since 2008. He is in his late twenties and currently earns less than $21.00 an hour and he lives in Yonkers. [A note from Priscilla: Unless Sal works overtime-more than forty hours in a week-that hourly rate amounts to less than $44,000 a year.] Over the years he has been promised some raises over the years that never happened. He has asked for raises and been dismissed; one time the person asked him, while twirling a finger in the air, "What do you want me to do? Wave a magic wand?") Sal is engaged to be married and has stated openly that he wants to start a family, but can't afford it. So why shouldn't we protest? He's fighting for some respect and hope for a better life. We fully support Sal and the others in this fight and hope the SLC community does too.
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Admitted Students Day 1, 2016:
On Monday, April 11, the first Admitted Students Day for this spring, facilities workers and their supporters held a vigil on the sidewalk on Glen Washington Road, across the street from the tent where visitors to the campus gathered. Below is a photo of the vigil at about 9:30 a.m. It grew much larger later in the day, when the sun came out.
Originally, the bargaining unit had planned a louder demonstration, much like the rally that took place in February at the corner of Glen Washington and Kimball Avenue (see the photographs above), and students from SLC Worker Justice had considered blocking traffic. However, in response to concerns expressed by several members of the professional staff, the organizers toned things down and opted for a vigil instead. The demand was simple: let's resume negotiations toward a contract. For weeks now the adminstration's "bargaining team" has not been barganing, declining to respond to the union's latest proposals, except to say take or leave what we have offered.
On Friday, April 15, a group of professional staff members initiated on on-line petition that calls on the facilities workers not to protest on the next Admitted Students Day, Tuesday, April 26. At the moment (the evening of April 23), the petition has garnered 51 signatures--largely, though by no means entirely, from the professional staff, to judge from the 37 signatories who agreed to make public their names. The initiative seems to have stalled two or three days ago, when a union partisan offered an opinion on the petition's "Comments" page, and a partisan of Bond, Schoeneck & King (BSK) quickly responded with some "dirt" on Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers. (More on that below.) With this smear at the top of the comments, the petition's website now comes across as anti-union, which was not the authors' intent.
The petition did have a potentially positive effect, however, in that members of the facilities staff invited employees across the spectrum (non-professional staff, professional staff, administrators, faculty members) to meet on Tuesday afternoon, April 19, to discuss alternatives to a demonstration on Admitted Students Day. The meeting did not have the effect that the facilities workers had hoped when four of them took unpaid time off to attend the gathering. Instead of brainstorming about alternate ways to get the administration to bargain, some of the meeting's participants slipped into sermonizing. But at least people came together in the same room, and that's a significant step forward. I was unable to attend this meeting but have discussed it with facilities workers who were there, and they have expressed how much they appreciated the turnout.
Later in the week, on Thursday, April 21, our new Chief Financial Officer sent out his own sermon on behalf of the administration. This "Update on Collective Bargaining with Local 30" closes with a string of assertions, reproduced below, that do not entirely mesh with the facts.
"We support all employees right to choose whether or not to be represented by a labor union." This is difficult to believe in light the fact that in October 2014, our vice president for human resources retained a union-avoidance law firm within hours of her learning that members of the facilities staff were seeking union representation. I have been approached by more than one staff member who would like to join a union but hesitates to speak up on the subject for fear of retaliation. Can we really say that worry is misplaced?
"We offer generous and equitable benefits that are the
same for all employees." This is simply untrue, as anyone who checks
the employee benefits outlined on MySLC will soon discover. For instance: Adminstrative
staff get 20 days of vacation after one year on the job; the rest of gthe staff
reaches 20 days after four years on the job. Education benefits of various sorts
are more generous for people who have worked at Sarah Lawrence since before
June 1, 2013, than they are for employees who arrived after that date. Retirees
who were hired before July 1, 2005, and turned 40 before that date get better
medical benefits than other retirees. Highly-paid employees are advantaged and
lesser-paid employees are disadvantaged by the college's longstanding custom
of awarding raises as a percentage of pay and contributing to retirement accounts
on the same basis.
"We strive to provide all employees with fair wages, excellent benefits, as well as positive and productive working conditions." Here are a few relevant facts: The base pay of one of the facilities workers who has been employed by the college for over ten years has not yet reached $34,000 a year. Employee benefits were slashed in spring 2013, largely in ways that did real harm to employees but generated only theoretical savings savings for the institution. To place contract negotiations in the hands of a union-avoidance lawfirm and then let them drag on for fifteen months cannot produce a positive, productive atmosphere.
"We are always mindful of the fact that we are a small
college that is highly dependent on annual student revenues to fund current
operations." This is doubtless true as a general statement, but in
this case it seems that stubbornness--resolve to preserve managerial prerogatives,
no matter how high the cost--is driving the adminstration's agenda. That would
be okay if they alone would face the consequences of their own intransigence,
but instead we will all be affected.
"We appreciate and value the importance of the work performed by our maintenance employees their skills, their hard work, and their dedication to the College as we do that of all our employees." Maybe, but the senior staff's behavior on this front speaks louder than words. Although the CFO distributed the email under Maureen Gallagher's name as well as his own, this last point marks it as his handiwork. Mo Gallagher would never refer to the facilities workers as "our employees"; that's how an executive thinks, not a frontline supervisor.
No sooner had I digested this email than another one arrived. A little before 11:00 p.m. on Friday, April 22, an anonymous message mail showed up in my Sarah Lawrence inbox and, I assume, in many others too. It comes from someone who calls himself "Truthiness Sojourner"--I say"himself" because of the mansplaining tone. This is either the same person who smeared Local 30 on the petition's web pages or a copycat. The contents of the email are dollar figures cherry picked from Local 30's most recent disclosures in compliance with the Landrum-Griffin Act (Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act) of 1959, which requires that labor unions make annual reports on income, expenditures, salaries, and so on. The reports are sent to the U.S. Department of Labor, which then makes them public. The anonymous email announces the high salaries of a few union officials as well as spending on automobiles, furniture, hotels, airfare and legal representation. What he neglects to mention are the expenditures for organizing, contract bargaining and enforcement, and other activities that directly benefit the union's members. Nor does he understand that Local 30's staff, which he reports as consisting of just 10 people, is actually much larger because a lot of it--adminstrative assistants in particular--works for the local's nonprofit benefits fund. This fund finances and administers defined-benefit pensions and annuities for Local 30's 4000-plus members in New York and Connecticut, along with legal services for members and their spouses, and medical, dental, vision, and prescription-drug coverage for members, spouses and dependent children. This is where most of the local's income goes.
I found the email oddly clumsy if its purpose is to arouse contempt for Local 30. First, it turns out that executive pay at the local is considerably lower than executive pay at Sarah Lawrence. For example, in 2013--the latest year for which Sarah Lawrence has reported publicly on executive pay--the total compensation for Local 30's chief executive was $269,206 ($230,514 of that in salary) and the total compensation for the college's chief executive was $453,967 (including $353,560 in salary). On the other hand, adminstrative assistants do better at Local 30, with salaries as high as $80,000 as of 2013 and with health benefits and pensions fully funded by the local. (You can check these figures on UnionFacts.com and the website of the Chronicle of Higher Education (http://chronicle.com/interactives/executive-compensation#id=14808_195304_2013_private). Yet another instructive difference is that Local 30's executives are elected by its members whereas members of the Sarah Lawrence community do not vote on such matters. Hmmm.
(Last night, as I pondered the anonymous email, I got to wondering if the salaries of executives who are elected are generally lower than those of executives who are appointed by a governing board of some sort. That does indeed seem to be the pattern. Governor Andrew Cuomo's salary is $179,000, for instance; Bill DeBlasio gets $225,000 as Mayor of New York City; and although the President of the United States has been paid $400,000 a year ever since George W. Bush took office in 2001, other heads of state get considerably less, with Germany's Angela Merkel making do with just $234,000 and Japan's Shinzo Abe weighing in at a mere $202,700.)
Finally, I must point out that, in our current situation, the most salient difference between highly-paid employees of Local 30 and highly-paid employees of Sarah Lawrence is that the former are committed to increasing the compensation of workers earning between $34,000 and $64,000 a year whereas the latter are going all out to prevent that increase.
I found it disgusting--highly disrepectful to Sojourner Truth--that the anonymous email would appropriate the name adopted by this remarkable woman, a former slave, when she became a traveling preacher devoted to the abolition of human bondage. The reference to "Truthiness" is certainly apt, however, in that the writer clearly cares little about facts or logic but simply asserts what he feels or wishes to be true.
So, here we are, with Admitted Students Day 2 growing larger on the horizon, and our senior adminstrators once again doubling down on the mistake they made when they hired Bond, Schoeneck & King in the first place. And, really, an anonymous email?!? What's next, wiretaps and private detectives?
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April 25, 2016
All of the usual participants were there: Ray Pascucci, Steve Schafer and Mo Gallagher for the administration; Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, Hank Broege, Priscilla Murolo, Andres Puerta and Brendan McPartland for the workers. The meeting began at 3:30 p.m. and ran for almost eleven hours, and surprisingly little was accomplished along the way. There were, however, some notable developments, outlined below.
First, the administration at last agreed, at least in principle, that the facilities workers will participate in Local 30's benefit plan. This concession came with several strings attached; the administration still vows it will not contribute to a defined-benefit pension, for example, and it wants to charge the union a 2% "administration fee" for writing a monthly check to the benefits fund. Fact is, moreover, Sarah Lawrence will pay much less to the union's health and welfare fund than it currently pays toward the facilities workers' health insurance under the college's plan, so the "concession" is actually a cost-saving measure. Still, it's a big gain for the workers because they and their families will be covered by the union's health and welfare fund at no cost to themselves, and this plan is vastly more generous than health-and-benefits plan at Sarah Lawrence. In case you're curious, click here to see a summary of Local 30's plan.
Second, as we were discussing Local 30's benefit funds, something downright astonishing happened; Ray Pascucci made clear that he did not know this local is wholly composed of workers who maintain buildings. Nobody would raise an eyebrow if a rookie made this mistake. Local 30's parent organization--the International Union of Operating Engineers--represents both operating engineers (who operate heavy equipment on construction sites) and stationary engineers (who maintain buildings). Since I'm a labor historian by trade, allow me to digress for a moment and explain how these two very different groups of workers wound up under the same umbrella. In 1896, when the IUOE was founded, new kinds of steam engines and boilers were fast changing the predominant methods of constructing buildings, generating electricity, and producing heat and hot water. Whether they worked in building maintenance or on construction sites, what members of the newborn IUOE had in common was their expertise with steam-operated equipment. This is why the union's logo replicates a steam gauge:
Of course, the technology of both building construction and building maintenance has changed a great deal over the past 120 years, but the IUOE continues to represent both maintenance and construction workers-and it doesn't take much effort to figure that out. Google the IUOE in Westchester County, New York, and you can learn in about 45 seconds that Local 137 represents construction workers and Local 30 represents building maintenance workers. And since Ray Pascucci is no rookie, it's quite reasonable to expect that he would have invested the 45 seconds. But the sad reality is that he did not--or, if he did do the search, he didn't recall the results. Either way, it goes a very long way to explain why there is still no contract between the college and Local 30.
Compounding Mr. Pascucci's confusion, the college's senior administrators have repeated to anyone who cares to listen that Local 30 represents construction workers and hasn't previously bargained with colleges. This is what State Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer was told when she inquired about the college's negotations with the union, and it's just plain wrong. Not only does Local 30 represent stationary engineers, but the employers it deals with include Wagner College, Molloy College, and other institutions of higher education. So, senior staffers, let's engage in a reality check; Sarah Lawrence can only benefit from your return to a fact-based worldview.
Finally, some observations about how Sarah Lawrence pays facilities workers compared to other colleges and universities: When the bargaining teams met on April 25, Steve Schafer handed out a chart titled "Salary Comparisons Local Institutions: Construction & Maintenance Staff, 2014-15 Academic Year." The following day, April 26, Tom Blum, Vice President for Administration, emailed the same chart to all college employees, describing it as a collection of "data published by the Chronicle [Chronicle of Higher Education] on April 25th." I later learned that the Chronicle has not in fact published wage data for maintenance workers at Sarah Lawrence, since the college neglected to report them, though it did supply salary information for college employees in other categories. In any case, here is the chart:
The situation is rather different than the chart suggests. For one thing, the chart makes it seem that the average yearly pay for maintenance workers at Sarah Lawrence was about $50,000 in the academic year 2014-2015. In fact, the average as of August 2014, right after that year's raises kicked in, was $47,496.80 according to figures that Julie Auster's office calculated, Ray Pascucci brought to the bargaining table last November, and every one of us at that table can confirm. So, in contrast to what the chart indicates, maintenance workers' average earnings at Marymount Manhattan ($48,719) and Yeshiva ($48,863) were actually higher than those at Sarah Lawrence, not lower. Also, the chart omits data from a number of schools that might fairly be included: the $50,942 average yearly wages of maintenance workers at Concordia College, a small Lutheran school the other side of Bronxville; the $56,845 earned by maintenance workers at Wagner College on Staten Island, another financially-strapped Lutheran school; the $54,497 earned by maintenance workers at Westchester Community College in Valhalla; the $70,037 earned by maintenance workers at Lehman College, just six miles south of Sarah Lawrence in the Bronx; the $67,367 earned by maintenance workers at Adelphi University in Queens; the $71,782 earned by maintenance workers at Queens College; the $75,941 earned by maintenance workers at Long-Island University-C.W. Post; and the $80,964 earned by maintenance workers at Hofstra University--not to mention the $66,690 earned by maintenance workers at Vassar, which Ray Pascucci himself had identified as a valid point of comparison to SLC. (Click here to check these figures and those for other schools.) In sum, the list of local schools where maintenance workers earn more than they do at Sarah Lawrence is more than twice as long as the chart suggests.
Since the bargaining session ended without any new agreements, the returned to campus on April 26, Admitted Students Day 2, and dozens of protesters gathered around it. That afternoon an admitted student whose father is the friend of a friend of mine came to see me in my office at the far north end of the campus and later walked up the hill by my side. As we passed the tent on the North Lawn, students from SLC Workers Justice were chanting, "Pay workers, not lawyers," and IUOE members demonstrating on Glen Washington were audible, though not yet visible. Suddenly, my young companion turned to me and declared with a 100-watt smile, "I love this school." "Me too," I said, "me too."
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Occupy Westlands, May 2, 2016
Early this morning a group of eighteen students entered President
Karen Lawrence's office and began a sit-in in support of the facilities workers'
efforts to negotiate a fair contract with the college. The students, who call
the action Occupy Westlands, made public two demands:
- that the adminstration accept the most recent proposal that Local 30 put on the table;
- that the student protestors not suffer repercussions.
The latter demand has already been met. As for the former, the Local 30 bargaining team would be happy simply to resume talks with an eye to a quick settlement. There's a lot of flexibility on our side of the table; it's not our way or the highway. If the administration shares that orientation, we can surely reach an agreement that both sides can happily live with. But I doubt Ray Pascucci can broker the agreement; settlements aren't his forte.
As evening fell President Lawrence sent out a universal email about the protest. Here's what it said:
Earlier today, a group of 18 Sarah Lawrence students, one of whom is a member of the Local 30 bargaining team, gained unauthorized access to the Presidents Office in Westlands. The students indicated by email and other means their intention to occupy the office until the college accedes to the wage and benefits demands of Local 30. Sarah Lawrence students have a long tradition of taking action in support of important causes within our community and it is in that historical context that these events are unfolding.
At mid-morning, Dean Danny Trujillo entered the office to converse with the students about the nature of the protest and to ensure there is a basic understanding regarding the students use of the space. At this time, we have an agreement regarding the following points:
The 18 students originally involved in the occupancy may leave and return to the office as needed to attend classes and conferences or to get food.
No additional students or visitors will be permitted into the office.
Dean Trujillo or his designees will remain with the students for the duration of the protest.
We will not meet the students specific demand that the college accede to all of the unions demands, first because the sit-in is not the form in which we will conduct our negotiations and, second, for the reasons previously conveyed to the unions bargaining committee and the campus community. It is in all of our best interests to see our remaining issues resolved as soon as possible and we will continue to negotiate in good faith in our upcoming meetings with the union.
In keeping with the colleges code of Mutual Respect and the community standards set forth in the Student Handbook, it is expected that the students will act in a peaceful manner and will respect the privacy and confidentiality of the contents of the Presidents Office. Accordingly, the college aims to interact through discussion and deliberation, in keeping with our traditions.
A few hours later, the Occupy Westlands group responded with this message:
Dear Sarah Lawrence College Community,
For over fourteen hours we have engaged in a peaceful, respectful occupation of President Karen Lawrences office in Westlands. Wed like to take this opportunity to update the SLC community on the status of the occupation and to address President Karen Lawrences email from earlier this evening.
First, we would like to reaffirm our solidarity with the colleges facilities workers and the union: proud, hard-working members of the Sarah Lawrence community with whom we share a deep sense of love and respect for this institution. It is from this place of love and respect that we write to you.
The workers have endured eighteen months of bargaining, yet no contract has been finalized. The union has agreed to dozens of compromises, lowering their requested wage increases and offering a new cost-saving healthcare plan. They have seen little to no such flexibility from the college. Instead, Raymond J. Pascucci, a lawyer from the notorious union-busting law firm Bond, Schoeneck & King, has worked to stonewall any and all negotiation between the union and the college.
Accepting the unions current economic proposal is more financially prudent than continuing to work with Bond, Schoeneck & King. For a total of twelve workers here at the college, the unions economic offer would cost the college an additional $85,000 next year. In comparison, based on public financial statements from colleges which have previously worked with BSK, we can safely estimate that the college has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars delaying negotiations, and stands to lose even more as negotiations drag on. BSK, rather than facilitating positive progress and compromise, as they were hired to, is simply depleting the colleges funds.
A student sit-in might not be the colleges preferred method of negotiation, but we believe their approach thus far has been far from sufficient in yielding real progress in this fight for fair wages for Sarah Lawrence facility workers. This sit-in is a direct response to the lack of action following years of our workers requests, and we are disappointed that this action has become necessary to reach an agreement and restore our community.
The kind of students that are drawn to Sarah Lawrence College thrive on political participation and active involvement, and we believe such students contribute to the colleges growth. We are not ones to take a back seat when we witness injustices.
We believe that it is in the interest of the college to bargain in good faith. We believe that good-faith negotiations will not be possible until the obstructionist BSK lawyer is removed. We encourage President Karen Lawrence to embrace our colleges progressive tradition and put the needs of our community first by cutting ties with BSK.
We strongly encourage students and faculty to join us tomorrow at 12:00 noon for a solidarity march outside of Westlands. Your presence is crucial to this movement. Afterwards, everyone will be welcomed to sit inside the Westlands building and extend our sit-in demonstration to other parts of the building.
If anyone has any questions or concerns, you know where to find us. We would love to speak with you.
In peace and solidarity,
Julia Beros '17, Issy Bilek '18, Hank Broege '16, Jack Califano '16, Nick Dalzell '19, Devin Esch '18, Paloma Hayes-Buhanan '19, Rowan Heglie '17, Grace Jeffress '19, Maydha Kapur '19, Dana Langhans '18, Juliette Mandal '17, Kipling McClement '19, Dominique McKenzie '19, Jessica McNamara '19, Nebila Oguz '19, Maisie Stevenson '19, Grace Wagner '19
I know just one of these students--Hank Broege, the student member of the workers' bargaining team--but I'm grateful to all of them for taking this stand. It clarifies some issues I've found it hard to sort through.
For a multitude of reasons, I truly love Sarah Lawrence College. Over the past forty years, I've been a student here, a parent of students, a donor, and a member of the non-professional staff, the guest faculty and the regular faculty. Along the way, I've accumulated debts to many extraodinarily generous people, and I've tried to repay them by working above and beyond what my jobs have required.
Lately, however, I've had to come to terms with a Sarah Lawrence quite different from the one I used to know. In this new place, the 100% tuition waiver my sons enjoyed is available only to the children of employees who came to the college before June 1, 2013. In this new place, tuition benefits for children of employees who die must be specified in writing because we can no longer count on the college to do the right thing. In this new place, our top adminstrators are paid as much as or even more than most heads of state, and yet the lowest-paid member of the facilities staff gets so little that his children are eligible for Medicaid--a lucky thing since he cannot afford the premiums for family coverage under the Sarah Lawrence plan. What exactly does my identification with Sarah Lawrence mean in this new place? Should I feel thankful to earn enough to pay family premiums and try to forget the rest? Silently hope that the college's policymakers will change their minds about personnel policies that make us look more and more like Wal-Mart? Write angry letters to standing committees and delude myself that this will make a difference? Retire as soon as I can and never look back? Thoughts like this are interrupting my sleep more and more these days.
And now our students offer us a way to come together to remind the community of our institutional traditions and insist that they matter. I'm grateful to Occupy Westlands and will do what I can to support it. I know a great many of my faculty colleagues will feel and do the same.
As Mario Savio wrote many years ago, There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odiousmakes you so sick at heartthat you can't take part." This is such a time.
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Occupy Westlands, May 4, 2016
On Wednesday, May 4, following meetings with President Lawrence, the eighteen students occupying her office agreed to end their protest., By that numerous faculty members had written to the president to urge her to rethink the administration's approach to contract negotiations time, and the students in the president's office had been joined by dozens of others, who camped out in the building's hallways. On the evening of May 3, one of my graduate classes convened in Westlands as an expression of solidarity. We were impressed by the students we saw there, all of them quietly working on laptops to meet academic obligations or holding hushed conversations about the issues at stake in the protest. The next day they left the building better than they found it, by which I mean they had persuaded senior adminstrators to take steps toward a fair contract with facilities workers.
Here is the message that President Lawrence sent to the campus community when students agreed to vacate her office and the hallways outside:
Dear Sarah Lawrence Community,
Over the past few days, Dean Trujillo and I have had productive meetings with the students who have been protesting in Westlands. These students proposed a creative path forward involving non-binding mediation, facilitated by a neutral third-party, between the College and the union representing the maintenance workers. After consideration of the proposal, the College has decided to participate in the mediation process. The students will vacate the presidents office by the end of this afternoon.
We expect to begin the non-binding mediation process as soon as we can convene the parties. I look forward to initiating the next steps in our negotiations.
A few hours later, the students from Occupy Westlands sent out a more detailed summary of their agreement with President Lawrence:
Dear Sarah Lawrence Community,
Today we had a second meeting with President Karen Lawrence and Dean Danny Trujillo. We would like to thank President Lawrence and Dean Trujillo for sitting down with us and having a truly productive, respectful discussion. We are extremely pleased to report that the college and the occupiers have reached some specific agreements, after which we agreed to vacate Karens office. The agreements are as follows:
-The school will use John Feerick, a nationally renowned, third-party lawyer as a non-binding mediator for future negotiations between the college and the union.
-Mediated negotiations will begin as soon as all possible, with the college committing to aim for a meeting with the union and mediator before the weekend.
-The school and the union will work in good-faith, as defined by the mediator, to reach a Memorandum of Understanding by the end of the day on Monday, May 9th.
-In the event that a Memorandum of Understanding is not signed by the college and union before Monday, May 9th, the college will instead release a statement regarding the status of the mediations.
-There will be no disciplinary action against students, faculty, workers, and staff who have been involved in this action in any way, at any time, and in any capacity.
-Assuming the above agreements are honored by all parties, and the mutually agreed upon mediator can assure the Sarah Lawrence community that negotiations are continuing in good faith, the student occupants will not protest at graduation.
With trust in all parties adhering to this agreement, we have agreed to vacate the Presidents Office and see this process played out through next Monday.
We are enormously proud of the progress we have made through these negotiations with the college. We believe that if all of the above conditions are honored, the college will see a swift and equitable resolution to the current bargaining impasse which honors the dignity and needs of the facilities workers while remaining within the financial constraints of the college.
We would like to thank all of the individuals have displayed solidarity with the facilities workers and the occupation. We will be monitoring negotiations between the college and the union closely, and are keeping our options open as we wait to see the totality of this agreement honored.
With enormous love and respect for the entire Sarah Lawrence community,
Though I haven't discussed this with either the students or senior administrators, I think it's safe to say they trust each other to follow through on the agreement, and I thank both sides for moving us closer to a fair contract.
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May 7-14, 2016
There were three meetings with the mediator, John Feerick, Norris Professor of Law at Fordham University's law school, founder and chief counsel at the Feerick Center for Social Justice, and a renowned specialist in employment and labor law, Constitutional law, and arbitration. He was accompanied by his daughter Maureen LeBlanc, formerly an assistant vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The meetings included two marathon sessions, on Saturday, May 7, and Saturday, May 14, along with a shorter session on Monday the 9th. The usual participants attended all three meetings except that Brendan McPartland could not be there on the 14th. Also, Mark Goodman from the Board of Trustees joined us on May 7 and Steven Palombo from the facilities department attended on May 14.
Just as the students from Occupy Westlands had hoped, John Feerick's presence made all the difference in the world. He listened carefully to both sides and slowly moved us toward compromises that neither side found pleasing and both deemed acceptable. Maureen LeBlanc meanwhile crunched numbers until calculations on opposite sides of the table agreed down to the last dollar. Another difference was that, following Mark Goodman's early departure from the first of the three meetings, Steve Schafer became the administration's chief spokesperson. Unlike Ray Pascucci, whose manner has often heightened antagonisms, Steve spoke in a way conducive to making a deal.
Shortly before midnight on May 14, the two sides did in fact
sign a memorandum of understanding that outlines agreements on wages and health
insurance and lays the foundation for bargaining on retirement benefits. I'll
offer a full report once a contract has been signed, which ought to happen in
the next couple of weeks. For now, I'll simply express thanks everyone who helped
us make such progress. Sarah Lawrence is in your debt.
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June 1, 2016
This afternoon marked the first bargaining session since our three meetings with mediator John Feerick, and his our high hopes that a contract would soon be signed disintegrated. On management's side of the table were Ray Pascucci, Steven Schafer and Mo Gallagher. On the union's side were Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, Steve Palombo, Hank Broege, Andres Puerta and I. Ray Pascucci seemed once again to call the shots--he certainly did most of the talking for management--so the tone of statements from that side of he table was more hostile than at the mediated sessions. More important than the tone, however, was the content of the statements. Today Ray Pascucci announced that the college doesn't intend to participate in the union's retirement plan (which would cost no more that the college already pays); won't pay into the apprenticeship fund or the industry stabilization fund (which together would cost the college just $6,428 in the coming year); and won't participate in the union's Health and Welfare Plan (which saves the college money) unless it 's exempted from fines and fees for delinquency in the monthly payments. So, if you've been missing the inflatable rat, buck up; it will be soon back on campus.
As Ray Pascucci explained it, the administration is "philosophically" committed to the positions he laid out today; it's not a matter of money. I'm not sure Steve Schafer would agree. Unlike Ray, he has the daunting task of making the college's books balance, and dragging things out like this is costing us plenty, by delaying the savings in medical insurance payments, by giving Bond, Schoeneck & King more and more billable hours, and by undermining the goodwill that inspires so many Sarah Lawrence employees to go the extra mile. For now, though, Ray's setting the agenda. Here's hoping that's not a permanent arrangement.
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June 6, 2016
The rat came back to campus on Friday, June 3, during the first full day of the alumnae/i reunion. The alums were quite rodent friendly, stopping by to chat about efforts to achieve a fair contract for facilities workers. Despite or perhaps because of this, the administration called the police, in an unsuccessful effort to have the rat removed. The responding officer declined to intervene, lest the union sue the city of Yonkers for violating First Amendment rights. Really, it's a sad day when the police care more about free speech than do the people at the helm of Sarah Lawrence, but let's just call this a momentary lapse of judgment and then move on.
On Monday, June 6, the 32nd bargaining session took place. Steve Schafer, Maureen Gallagher, and Ray Pascucci represented management, and Ray did 95% of the talking. On the workers' side there were a couple of new faces; Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, Steve Palombo, Andres Puerta and I were joined by Issy Bilek (a student active in Sarah Lawrence Worker Justice who has joined the union-side bargaining team) and Matt Berger (an attorney from Barnes, Iaccarino and Shepherd, the firm that represents the trusts that administer Local 30's benefit funds).
This session produced much more than the one on June 1. Perhaps we can thank the rat for that, or perhaps Matt Berger's presence did the trick-he did ask good questions and correct Ray Pascucci on certain points of law related to benefit funds. Whatever the reason, the managerial team bargained more earnestly than it did the last time we met, and that allowed us to reach tentative agreements on several issues: premium pay for the occasions when facilities workers are called in during an emergency closing of the college; continuation of the college's contributions to the tax-free medical savings accounts earmarked for use after employees retire; and the details of facilities workers' entry into Local 30's Health and Welfare Plan, with premiums entirely paid by the college. That the Health and Welfare issue has been settled is an especially good thing for the college as well as the facilities workers. The workers will now have employer-paid insurance that covers medical treatment, dental treatment, eyeglasses and basic legal services, and the college will pay less for this than it currently pays for an insurance plan that covers medical treatment only.
At the next bargaining session, scheduled for June 15, discussion
will focus on benefit funds that support workers' retirement, training in skills
related to building maintenance, and promotion of good labor-management relationships,
job security, and productivity among stationary engineers (i.e., building maintenance
employees). On June 1, Ray Pascucci expressed that Sarah Lawrence opposes participation
in these funds on "philosophical grounds." Exactly what philosophy
is at play here he did not say, and I won't try to guess, but we on the workers'
side of the table are all hoping that Mr. Pascucci is alone in his disinclination
to resolve these last few issues that stand between and a contract.
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June 15, 2016
I didn't attend this bargaining session, but all of the other
regulars were there: Steve Schafer, Maureen Gallagher, and Ray Pascucci for
management; Sal Haddad, Patsy Morano, Steve Palombo, Andres Puerta and Issy
Bilek for the workers' side. Folks on that side of the
table sent me reports from which I've pieced together this post.
It was a short session, not because there wasn't a lot to discuss but because spokespeople for the administration were not in the mood to negotiate. Why they go back and forth like this is difficult to determine. In the fall of 2014, when Bond, Schoeneck & King first came to Sarah Lawrence, a student who did research on the firm found that, when BSK's union-avoidance division plants its flag on a college campus, it generally stays for a long time, racking up hundreds of billable hours. Perhaps that explains the back and forth; or perhaps something else is at work. Whatever the reason, on June 15, stonewalling was the order of the day.
First, Ray Pascucci stated that the administration will not contribute to the union's funds for apprenticeship training or "industry stabilization" (which refers to measures that promote and improve building maintenance). The contributions would be cost neutral because, as the workers' bargaining team has repeatedly offered, the union would voluntarily reduce the health insurance fee to offset in total all moneys paid into the funds. Even so, Mr. Pascucci refuses to consider the contributions, and none of the college's administrators has so far dared to take a different position.
The management team also refused to consider the workers' proposal that they leave the Sarah Lawrence retirement plan (through TIAA-CREF) to enter the plan administered by Local 30. Steve Schaefer declared that this will not change, at which point the workers' bargaining team called for a return to mediation. Ray Pascucci tried to stonewall on this matter too, but he backed down after Issy Bilek pointed out that the administration had promised students it would mediate.
It's not yet clear what form mediation will take; both Steve and Ray took vacations that prevented us from scheduling anything for late June or early July.
That's it for the status report, but I will add two observations:
- First, the facilities workers were very disturbed by Ray Pascucci's treatment of Issy Bilek--his tendency to interrupt her very rudely when she speaks. I've experienced the same thing, which leads me to think this is more about gender than about age. In other words, we seem to have an unrestrained mansplainer on our hands and, since this behavior clashes with the college's culture (not to mention its Compact for Mutual Respect), I hope our administration will see fit to rein him in.
-Second, that negotiations about retirement benefits have gone nowhere makes me worry for all of us who work at the college. Sarah Lawrence's contributions to employees' retirement accounts used to equal 10% percent of base pay. Then, as of June 1, 2013, this was reduced to 8 %, despite repeated appeals from the faculty and staff. Now I hear our administration calling for a union contract whose only provision regarding retirement would be that Local 30's members get the same benefit as other employees, and this makes me wonder if someone wants to leave open the possibility of further cuts. For purely selfish reasons among others, I want the contract with Local 30 to include firm and generous provisions regarding retirement benefits. That will make all college employees more secure than we are now.
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August 2, 2016 - A contract at last!
It's done! Sarah Lawrence has signed its very first contract with a labor union representing its employees, and the college's facilities workers have significantly bettered their lives through their own solidarity and perseverance, their affiliation with the immensely creative Local 30 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, and the support they received from staff, faculty members, and especially our wonderful students. I'm proud to be associated with one and all.
Although the final bargaining sessions took place when I was out of town, I did attend a meeting of the bargaining unit that took place on Tuesday, August 2. Andres Puerta, the lead organizer, read aloud the proposed contract, which members of the unit then ratified with a unanimous voice vote. Later than day, Andres took the contract to Steve Schafer, who signed it on behalf of the college.
At the ratification meeting I sat directly across the table from Francisco Quezada and at first didn't recognize him because he was smiling so broadly. Now wonder. The contract ushers in numerous improvements in facilities workers' compensation and labor conditions. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Facilities workers are now covered by Local 30's benefits
fund with 100% of the premium paid by Sarah Lawrence. The benefits include not
only medical insurance and prescription drug coverage but also dental care and
prescription eyeglasses; and these benefits are available to union members,
their spouses and their children. Members and spouses are also covered for basic
legal services. (The premiums that Sarah Lawrence now pays to the benefits fund
are actually lower than those they used to pay to Aetna, even though the fund's
medical coverage is just as generous than Aetna's and more generous in some
respects. Perhaps the folks who negotiate premiums on the college's behalf could
use some advice from Local 30.)
- Hourly wages have gone up for one and all, with the largest increases going to workers who earn the least. No one makes less than $20 an hour and in one case that change required a raise of more than $3.00 an hour-or, to put it another way, more than $120 a week.
- Facilities workers now have paid lunch breaks, so their regular daily hours on campus have dropped 8.5 to 8. In return for this concession from the college, they have forfeited the week of vacation traditionally taken during spring break. Do the math, however, and you will see that they have gained much more paid time off than they have lost-those who are on the job 48 weeks a year (assuming the rest goes to vacation) have in fact gained 120 hours of paid time off in exchange for losing 40. That's a pretty good deal.
- The time workers spend on call is now paid time-paid at a very low rate, to be sure (just $1.00 per hour) but, for the first time ever, paid nonetheless.
- The contract obligates the college to reimburse facilities workers for work boots and work pants every year and to supply t-shirts and hoodies.
- Workers with complaints now have a formal grievance system in which unresolved conflicts wind up in arbitration instead of landing on a senior administrator's desk.
If you want to know more about the contract, ask one of Local 30's members on campus. There's a copy of the contract in their shop, and I'm sure you can arrange to stop by and read it for yourself. happy to provide you with a copy. Also, plans are afoot to hold a teach-in in the fall so that the whole campus can learn how the contract negotiations panned out.
Perhaps the most important result is one that can't be measured in dollars and cents. By certifying a union as their bargaining agent, facilities workers have established their right to negotiate over compensation.
That the rest of us lack that right became excruciatingly obvious a few years ago, when the college reduced its contributions to employees' retirement funds by 20%. The faculty's Committee on Conditions of Teaching and the non-teaching staff's Committee on Conditions of Staff Employment (back then called the Administrative Staff Committee) did all in their power to stop this reduction. They met together to draw up a list of alternate ways of cutting costs; they held special meetings with faculty and staff; they beseeched senior administrators not to reduce contributions to retirement. None of this made a difference; as our chief financial officer at the time pointed out, discussions about the reduction were "not negotiations."
With all of this on my mind every time I think about retirement,
I was especially interested to hear on August 2 that the facilities workers'
new contract states that the college will contribute to their retirement funds
(administered by Local 30) and to other employees' retirement funds (TIAA-CREF)
at equal rates. Since the contact places us all in the same boat in this regard,
the fact that some of us enjoy the right to negotiate over benefits gives everyone
more protection than we had before.
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