Looking to the Future: USU-NEA Takes a Bold Step

Below is an important update from University Staff Union-NEA about our current organizing efforts on campus and our work to build a strong, sustainable and democratic union for all staff at UVM.  Please read and let us know your thoughts or questions.

Dear Fellow UVM Staff:

I hope the semester is off to a good start and that you had a wonderful summer. My fellow University Staff Union-NEA (USU-NEA) leaders and I wanted to send along a quick note to give you an update on the union organizing effort we’ve been building with you over the past several years.

To set this update in context, here’s a little history. One year ago next week, in round one of a certified election filed for by USU-NEA, 55% of non-exempt UVM staff voted “yes” for a union. We did so because we believed that a union will give UVM staff a strong collective voice about the future of our jobs, community and university. As you know, we did not win a union, but we came very close. We lost, to be candid, because USU-NEA and United Staff (US) couldn’t come together for a common cause in that second , November 2012 run-off election. Even before the election, USU-NEA strongly believed that USU-NEA and US are part of the same UVM community and share a common quest for a strong union voice that will represent all staff. In fact, before and after the election, USU-NEA’s leadership had reached out to US leadership several times to try to discuss ways to move forward together.

Keeping in mind that we cannot be successful without each other, USU-NEA leaders in April took a another decisive step toward a collaboration between our two groups: we once again took the initiative and invited United Staff to meet to find a mutually agreeable path forward. This time, US leadership agreed to enter into discussions. Our goal for these discussions was that to find a way to work together to do what is in the best interests of ALL UVM Staff. In other words, by working with—not against—each other, we might finally be successful in obtaining a union at UVM that did not divide or alienate union supporters on either side. Too much is at stake—our job security, our wages, our health benefits, our retirement and our working conditions—to do otherwise. It’s important to all of us that we find a way forward together.

With that in mind, USU-NEA and US leaders met five times over the course of the summer to see if we could chart a new path forward. We learned definitively at these meetings that US is now amenable to affiliating with an established union. Unfortunately, just as we thought we were gaining ground and that some trust had been established, the conversations stalled.

Looking to the future rather than the past, we made two bold proposals to US to rekindle the process. The first was that our two organizations merge, and, the second, that we enter into a collaborative process, with equal representation, to determine which union should represent us. Rather than fight over which union to affiliate with, we said, let’s decide on the right union together, from scratch, through an open process that we jointly design and facilitate. The first critical objective for our new, merged organization, we asserted, would be settling the question of union affiliation.

Where are we now? Well, we have yet to receive a response to our two proposals. We are hopeful that US leaders are still considering a response. For now, we are waiting to learn whether we can move forward with a shared process of building a union with our friends and fellow staff members in US. Hopefully, the lines of communication are still open, and, speaking for USU-NEA, we are not giving up.

USU-NEA and US have come a long way together since last September’s vote. I am proud that USU-NEA has consistently tried to engage with United Staff and of our ongoing commitment to do the right thing by all UVM staff. With anticipated FY 2015 budget cuts and what that could mean for staff salaries and benefits, it is clear that we need a strong staff voice now more than ever. I promise you that USU-NEA leaders are committed to working as hard as we can to bridge the differences that still divide us from US.

Our collective work is not done and we need you. Please let us know your thoughts. You are welcome to contact me directly by emailing hmacski@yahoo.com. I look forward to hearing from you.


Helen Maciejewski and the USU-NEA Organizing Team


Soft Money

Is your job funded with money from a state or federal agency, another institution or private organization? Read USU-NEA’s new soft money issue brief on how soft money funded employees would be impacted – for the positive – by a union.

USU-NEA will fight hard for the economic and job security of soft-money staff, just like we will for staff funded Emily Marottoby UVM generated revenue. Many union contracts in higher education, represented by NEA and other unions, address issues related to soft money. Here are some topics that these contracts address and how they impact employees paid with soft money:

Grants & Staff Salaries – the university should require pay raises as stipulated in the grant. Currently some staff entitled to a raise under the grant can end up with no raise if UVM does not budget for it.

Accountability & Transparency – Every dollar of soft money should be fully accounted for, explained and justified.  Staff should have a say in how UVM’s “cut” of grant funding is determined and allocated.

SMURF – Soft Money Unemployment Recovery Fund – Grants sometimes run out. If this happens, a fund should exist for staff to provide assistance for staff impacted by layoffs, in part because they helped to contribute to the mission, success and prestige of UVM as a result of the work under the grant. Staff at the University of Maine, for example, would receive fixed payments of between $2000 and $4000 based on years of service if their grant expired.

Want to read more? Check out our full issue brief on soft money. A union will help us advocate for every professional staff member on campus, despite how their job is funded. Let’s do this together!

Parental Leave Rights

Many staff members have needed or will need to take parental leave at some point during their UVM career.  Do you know how stark the difference is between the benefits bargained by the faculty union and the benefits given to staff who are not unionized? Click here to read a full overview of the parental leave differences. Here are a few highlights:

  • Unionized faculty have negotiated to get one semester of paid leave or, for faculty on a 12 month appointment, 15 weeks paid leave.
  • Non-unionized staff only get FMLA/VPFLA rights to limited unpaid leave (12 weeks max) and paid leave (6 weeks max, if you have that time accrued in sick/vacation days).
  • Even if a UVM non-unionized staff member saved every sick day and vacation day to use during parental leave, unionized faculty still have access to more than double the amount of paid leave time based on their union contract.
clipboard-with-paperAs UVM staff we certainly deserve the same parental leave benefits as the unionized faculty. So why don’t we have the same benefits? It is simple. We don’t have a union and a legally binding seat at the table to negotiate with the University. Let’s change that today. Get involved. Contact us at info@ustaffu.org or 802-734-6265.